§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
rose to call attention to the state of parking arrangements in London; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, being successful in the ballot for a short debate at the first attempt is probably the political equivalent of winning the National Lottery—at least, a small prize in the National Lottery. I am very happy to have the opportunity of initiating a debate on parking in London.
At the outset, perhaps I may put a small challenge to the Minister when he comes to reply. Does he believe that it would be possible to devise a map of London and a leaflet designed to explain to visitors from other parts of the country and from abroad where they may park, where they may not park, and in what circumstances and at what times they may do so? That is small challenge to the Minister to see whether it can be done. It will 214 obviously be the thrust of my argument that it cannot be done because it is too complicated. However, it should be capable of being done. What we need is a better system—better public transport and better facilities for cyclists and for walkers as well as for motor vehicles. I accept the inevitable tensions in finding parking space in London. The need, surely, is for a parking system that is fair and effective—a system that makes it possible for all road users to use our streets and to park on them where possible. It must be a system whereby shopkeepers do not feel that they inevitably have to lose trade because of parking restrictions in their area.
The system must also operate with the goodwill of the motorist. I do not normally speak on behalf of motorists. I accept that traffic wardens have been subject to much unfair criticism. But there are times when either the wardens or the rules that they have to enforce do not make for a system that is conducive to goodwill. Indeed, it leads to much ill will. Since it became known that this debate was to be held, I have received anecdotes by the dozen: hard luck stories of people who have tried to park and failed, who have failed to avoid a parking ticket, or whatever. I appreciate that the issue is difficult for many London local authorities. I know from experience that Wandsworth council got itself into a real tangle over parking schemes. I know that Westminster has been the subject of much criticism, as has Camden. But the problem involves not only the inner London boroughs; there has also been criticism of some of the outer London boroughs. I know that there is much argument about some schemes in the borough of Croydon.
If we are to look some years ahead, we need to do more than simply make our present systems work better. The pressure of increased motor car usage by Londoners and by non-Londoners wishing to drive into London will make the situation far more difficult. If we are not careful, we shall reach the situation some years ahead when not only will there be nowhere for cars to park but there will be no road space in which they can move. Those who doubt that have only to pay a short visit to Bangkok to realise that it is a city totally unable to function because of the pressure of motor cars. We are not in that situation, but it is one in which we may find ourselves before too long.
I understand that present arrangements will lead to some 5 million parking tickets a year, giving London local authorities, I am told, an income of some £125 million. However, I hope that pressure to raise income will never be the main motive for having a sensible system of parking controls. The aim has to be a better and safer road system for all users. It should not be: how much cash can we get out of motorists for whatever purposes we want?
I should like to thank the Parking Committee for London for its help in providing back-up information for the debate, and also the AA. I have also had a useful discussion with the Cycling Public Affairs Group. All have helped me to put together the arguments.
The background to the debate is clearly the Road Traffic Act 1991, which came into effect in July 1994. That legislation took the very sensible step of decriminalising parking offences and handing over enforcement of regulations, except on certain main 215 traffic routes, to local authorities. Overall, that is a welcome development. It has improved matters up to a point.
The legislation, however, leaves a number of ambiguities. For example, if a car or heavy goods vehicle breaks down it is not totally clear whether that renders the driver or the owner liable to a penalty charges notice. I am told that the point is not clear; perhaps the Minister can clarify it.
There is also, I understand, a difficulty relating to the area close to pedestrian crossings on the so-called zig-zags. Who enforces the regulations if somebody should park on the zig-zags? The police or the parking attendants? If it is the police, it adds to the totting up on the licence; if it is the parking attendants, it does not lead to penalty points. So there is a problem over responsibilities which I understand is being considered.
I appreciate that on red routes, which are main traffic routes, parking controls are enforced by the police. They are a criminal matter. If, however, a motorist drives in a bus lane during hours when that is not permitted it is a matter for the police, but if he parks in a bus lane it is a matter for parking attendants. Is that logical?
There are some Londoners who park in the front gardens of their houses. The question then arises of whether another motorist may park in front of the access to the front garden. In some areas the local authority draws a white line on the road, thereby protecting access to the front garden. I am not sure whether the white line has any legal status. In other boroughs it is a yellow line. The problem is that if one may not park in front of a driveway or a garden where a motorist wishes to park in the evening, then that area cannot be parked upon at all. Equally, the motorist who has driven his car away is parking somewhere else, thereby using up another parking space. So there is an anomaly there.
Wheel clamping and towing away constitute a very vexed question. I hope that the practice will not increasingly be seen as a device to generate revenue but only as a means of achieving fair and effective parking control. If a motorist has his or her car towed away, then it has to be collected. There has been much criticism of the location of vehicle pounds, and in particular that behind King's Cross station in York Way. The area consists of dark, unlit streets and for motorists, especially women, collecting their cars, it can be pretty dangerous. I understand that local authorities were advised that they should locate vehicle pounds in areas that would be safe for women at any time of the day or night. The area behind King's Cross is not such an area. There is a trace service to enable motorists to find cars that have been towed away, but I understand that not all boroughs make use of it.
Some boroughs insist that motorists present themselves at pounds to pay de-clamping fees even though the parking code recommends that payment should be possible via the telephone by use of a credit card. So there are a number of difficulties. Enforcing the regulations has thrown up issues which were previously masked by the lack of proper enforcement. So one benefit is that these matters have been highlighted.
216 I want to identify four issues and say a little about each of them. The first is that some parking regulations seem inappropriate. Secondly—and perhaps the most important point—there is poor signing of regulations. There is poor indication of what regulations operate in any particular part of a borough. Thirdly, information about parking controls is generally inadequate. Fourthly, there is clearly a lack of sufficient parking spaces.
I turn first to inappropriate parking regulations. In some parts of London different regulations apply on different sides of the same street where the centre of the street is a borough boundary. Had there been a Greater London Council that body could have insisted on some element of uniformity. But there appears to be no way in which an element of uniformity can be exercised. It is absurd that motorists can park, let us say, on a Saturday afternoon on one side of a street but are not allowed to do so on the other side. I shall come to one or two specific examples in a moment.
My second area of concern overlaps with the first. It relates to the poor indication or signing of regulations. This is particularly important because there is such a diversity of practices. For example, in some boroughs, or even some parts of boroughs, there are parking controls all day on Saturday. In others, the controls stop at midday or at 1.30 in the afternoon on Saturday. In some parts of boroughs it is a matter of Mondays to Fridays only. In some places it is until 6.30 in the evening; in some it is until 8.30 in the evening; and there may be other times as well. It is a very complicated business. It is my contention that a motorist who wishes to abide properly by the parking regulations finds it almost impossible to do so if entering a borough with whose parking regulations he or she is not totally familiar.
That leads to contraventions, some of them inadvertent. The system has been brought into disrepute and motorists become hostile. They park anywhere and that makes it difficult from the point of view of the safety of road users. A classic example of where regulations are inappropriate and the signing impossible to follow is in the area of Lincoln's Inn on the Westminster-Camden boundary. I defy any Member of this House or any person to know exactly where to go. The signing is not clear. It is not possible to know that behind the law courts one may not park on a yellow line before 8 p.m. or 8.30 p.m. but that a short distance away one can park much earlier without being in contravention.
The Department of Transport should review the whole matter, especially the way in which local authorities put up signs or indeed inadequacy of signs. It is only right and proper that motorists should know where they can park properly and in compliance with the regulations.
There are other oddities. For example, some signs in residents' parking areas say "Residents' parking only". But they do not mean that. As I understand it, they mean "Residents' parking only up to a certain time of day". They do not apply on Sunday—at least not in my experience. No doubt there will be examples where they do. Some do not apply in the evenings, perhaps, or only within parking meter hours; others apply at different 217 times. In any case, residents' parking controls vary. Sometimes they apply until 6.30 in the evening, sometimes until noon on Saturday and sometimes until 10 o'clock in the evening. It is a difficult situation.
I do not want to go into anecdotes of my own experiences. However, in Paddington the residents' parking controls where I live operate until 10 o'clock in the evening from Monday to Saturday. When I asked the local authority how visitors could park there—how can one be visited by friends other than on a Sunday?—the answer was, "Park on a yellow line." That is not safe. Yellow lines are there because on the whole they are intended to indicate either that one should never park in that place or that it is not advisable to do so. To have empty residents' parking bays while, on the other side of the road, people park on yellow lines can hardly lead to traffic safety and can hardly be a desirable practice. But that is the advice one receives.
Another oddity is that sometimes residents' parking bays are for residents only—I am talking generally now and not about where I live—while at other times they combine pay schemes for non-residents with resident parking in the same bay. It is a little confusing. I do not say that it should not happen but it is confusing if the indications are not clear.
I believe it right that local authorities should have discretion in this matter. Indeed, one of my criticisms of the Government is that they have taken away from local authorities too much discretion. It is not my aim to be seen to argue otherwise, but I also believe that sometimes the local authorities have gone too far. They have not merely adjusted their parking controls to meet sensible local needs; sometimes they have gone so far as to meet local foibles and idiosyncrasies.
There is generally inadequate information about parking controls. It is probably generally known that yellow line restrictions and parking meter hours are identical in the same street. But perhaps not everyone knows that. The Parking Committee for London has provided some useful information. I believe that there is a need over and beyond what that committee has been able to do. I feel that motorists, both visitors and residents, are entitled to better information about where they can park properly in different parts of London.
Lastly, there is a lack of sufficient parking space. I suspect that the answer to that is to control the number of motor cars rather than to find ways of increasing the parking space available. I have not gone into the area of heavy goods vehicle parking, which has been a problem. I understand that through the measures that have been taken it is better now. However, the parking of heavy goods vehicles has caused a lot of pain in residential areas although I am not sure that it is now as much of a problem as it was.
The real answer is to improve public transport and facilities for the whole range of road users, motorists and others, including those who want to walk to work and those who cycle. We cannot indefinitely allow an increase in the number of cars parked or being driven in London. At some point all that has to stop. Even if the criticisms that I make are met, in the fullness of time it 218 will not make parking in London easier. We shall reach a situation when, frankly, there will be more cars than parking space and further controls will be necessary.
Finally, let me put a more limited argument than the wider one to which I referred. I believe that the motorist does at times have a sense of unfairness. Despite the improvement in legislation, the system is still arbitrary. It is better than it was, but I believe that it can still be improved.
I conclude by repeating the challenge I put to the Minister. Does he believe that it will be possible to devise a map of London and produce a leaflet combining a map which shows how people can park in the various parts of London? I fear that it is impossible, because the system is so complicated. But we must look at what has happened and review even the past seven months of the new system. Above all, we need to have an urgent review of the way in which local authorities sign parking controls. We could make it better. I hope that the Government will agree to that suggestion.
My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, I am sure all those who live in London, or sometimes bring their cars into London, are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for raising this matter. Personally, I feel a certain sense of déju vu. Over the past 40 or 50 years I have taken part in several debates in your Lordships' House with regard to London traffic and parking. I well remember the debates in 1956, when parking meters were first introduced. I received definite assurances and categorical promises from the Government at that time that all profits from parking meters would be entirely devoted to the provision of further off-street parking.
Indeed, the late Lord Selkirk, who took the Bill through this Chamber, assured the House on Second Reading that,the proceeds of parking meters are directly and exclusively linked with the provision of off-street parking. This objective is pretty closely tied up by Statute.—[Official Report, 12/6/56; col. 847.]At the Committee stage he drew your Lordships' attention to that fact and the particular clause that dealt with it. He said:We think that we have drawn this clause pretty tightly, and if any noble Lord can show me how the local authority can dispose of their funds otherwise than in maintaining and providing parking meters or providing for off-street parking, I shall be interested to know. It means that all the proceeds of parking meters are quite certain to be dedicated to the provision of off-street parking … in so far as it is not provided there is little hope of parking meters being of any benefit".—[Official Report, 3/7/56; col. 341.]
There are, of course, promises and political promises. That is one that has certainly not been kept. One does not have to be a great cynic to understand why the ever-increasing revenue from parking meters and penalties and the contribution which that has made to local government finances proved too much of a temptation. Consequently, today we find that parking meter revenue is a major source of income for local authorities. Indeed, naturally everything possible is done to increase it. It produced £125 million last year. Often we find yesterday's double yellow lines become today's revenue-earning meter space. 219 It is not only the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who hoped it would be different. Motorists can be forgiven for concluding that the first priority in many parts of London is to make sure that the parking machinery makes as much money as possible, hence the nefarious schemes and devices to pay rewards and bonuses to parking wardens according to the number of tickets issued or to clamping operatives in the same way. It is always denied but we all know that it exists.
The second priority therefore seems to be to keep London traffic flowing. If that was the first priority, as we all believe it should be, one would not be faced with the absurd situation which happens daily, for instance, in the morning rush hour. We all know it is essential to keep the main routes into London clear from parked cars, but where are the wardens? They are far from the madding crowd, patrolling and dishing out tickets in quiet residential squares and other soft targets where there is virtually no traffic whatever and certainly no congestion. Similarly, in the evening when the routes out of London should be strictly controlled, manpower seems to be deployed in the same way, issuing tickets up to around 6.30 in the evening. Until there is a better sense of priority in the deployment of labour, there will be growing frustration and hostility between the motorists and parking officials, and congestion will get worse.
However, not all is bad. I want to say a word of compliment to Westminster City Council for its efforts to consult local residents and listen to their views regarding the future. After all, those who pay council tax should have some rights to access to their property during the day and also the ability to unload heavy luggage. The time was when five minutes' grace was given to motorists. Now we have wardens with walkie-talkies and mobile phones, warning each other where they can nab the next victim. We need more flexibility; more generosity towards the disabled and particularly to overseas visitors. Nothing depresses me more than seeing a French or German car clamped—what terrible publicity for the City.
I want to raise the topic of coaches. We definitely need a proper coach park in London. One knows that efforts are being made in the Embankment and Park Lane; but, quite frankly, they do not enhance the park. On the other hand, some coaches seem to be allowed complete freedom to cause congestion, as at the junction of Great Cumberland Place and Marble Arch. There is also the absurdity of BT repair vans being clamped, which can hardly help our telephones to be repaired quicker. The vans are seen as soft targets. The drivers do not have to pay the fines and BT pays out thousands of pounds every month without question.
The main cause of congestion in London at the moment is not caused by bad parking but by the unprecedented amount of road works. It seems that there is hardly a road anywhere not currently being dug up, sometimes for months on end, putting many parking meters out of action. I doubt that even Hitler's bombs caused as much congestion as the present road works. Again, one would think that that was the ideal situation in which to employ labour to ease traffic through the 220 black spots. But that is not done. It does not raise any revenue. Traffic is therefore delayed and we pay the penalty.
My view is that in spite of the undoubted flaws in the system and the sad lack of any desire to get priorities right, parking restrictions are essential in keeping traffic flowing in a large city like London. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, what has been missing over the past decade is the effort to win the goodwill and co-operation of the motorists. Instead, they are hounded on a day-to-day basis and made to feel like petty criminals. I have already applauded the new attitude of the Westminster council and only hope that it spreads to other parts of London. Perhaps then the promises made many years ago to provide more offstreet parking will become a reality. I also welcome the traffic adjudicator who I am sure will do a very good job, and also the London traffic supremo. Your Lordships may be surprised to know that he has nothing to do with side streets.
There is much talk of restricting the number of vehicles in cities like London. That may well come one day. But those concerned with planning such schemes forget that most of the vehicles in London are owned by its inhabitants. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, one of the most difficult problems is parking at different times in the evening. The London theatres depend enormously on out-of-town traffic. Many theatres finish so late that people cannot rely on catching a train home. It is essential that the situation is rationalised so that theatres can at least provide some parking spaces for clientele.
I was rather depressed the other day when discussing with a local government officer the matter of restricting cars coming into London. He told me that if such restrictions came into force, authorities would need to greatly increase the charges for parking, fines and penalties, in order to make up for lost revenue. One knows what their priorities are. Tonight it would be good to hear from the Government that their first priority is to ease congestion; to provide car parking off street and under ground; to use the manpower where it is best needed and, most particularly, to see that local authorities are forced to embrace the policy, as laid down by statute, of using their revenue to build more underground car parks. Or is it the policy to restrict car parking in order to restrict traffic coming into London?
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for calling this debate. Parking in our capital city is of great importance to all who work and/or live here.
Since the London local authorities took over enforcement of parking in July last year there have been numerous stories in the newspapers of outraged motorists and complaints and misunderstandings. Indeed, one appeared in the Evening Standard on Monday, admittedly in the early edition. Without doubt there is a high level of public anxiety about the parking attendants being private contractors and that local authorities keep the money from the parking fines. Those elements of the new scheme represent a 221 significant departure in this country from the traditional role of law enforcement by the police and where fines went into the general Treasury fund.
It is not surprising that motorists who feel that they have been unfairly ticketed or had their vehicle clamped or removed in bewildering circumstances should wonder whether the financial aspects of the new parking enforcement may have a bearing on the matter. However, the new scheme introduced another new initiative which safeguards motorists' rights by allowing them to appeal to a parking adjudicator. That is surely a great step forward in the rights of citizens of this country. There are now lawyers who are appointed to hear appeals from motorists who have had their initial complaint to the local authority rejected.
The parking appeals service is an enormous improvement on the magistrates' courts where parking offenders were previously dealt with under the full process of the criminal law. I had the opportunity of visiting the parking appeals centre in central London (though, I hasten to add, not in the role of a disgruntled motorist!) and was impressed with the arrangements that the Parking Committee for London has made.
Motorists can now request a decision from the parking adjudicator by post or they can attend a hearing in person before the adjudicator. The proceedings are very informal and friendly and it is clear that the public feel at ease and, indeed—dare I say it?—comfortable with this new process. It resembles more an appointment with a doctor or dentist than a court hearing. Most impressively, the hearings with the parking adjudicator can be arranged between 8 o'clock in the morning and 8 o'clock at night so that those appealing do not need to take time off work to exercise their rights of appeal. In addition, they are not kept waiting more than 15 minutes and the whole process usually takes no more than half an hour.
This new way of dealing with parking disputes is a great improvement on the previous court system and I congratulate the Government for introducing this particular scheme under the Road Traffic Act 1991. I understand that the parking appeals service has already dealt with more than 1,000 cases, more than half of which were resolved in favour of the motorist. While the public are undoubtedly justified in having some concerns about the new decriminalised parking arrangements, this is surely a welcome safeguard of their interest through their right of appeal to the independent adjudicator.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. He was for many years my MP in Battersea, where we have the occasional parking problem. I imagine that it is as easy to be a parking bore as it is to be a computer bore. I hope that I shall be able to avoid, as have other noble Lords, being so this evening.
I shall not ask the Minister to answer all the points that I make because my experience of asking Ministers to answer instantly is that one almost always receives 222 the negative Civil Service defence answer. All I would ask him to do is to take away the ideas and cogitate on them and then perhaps I might be allowed to ask him how he is getting on by means of Oral Questions later on.
My first premise is perhaps a wider one than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, started with. It is that the supply of parking will always be limited in London and other cities and can never meet potential demand. There are disadvantages to having car parking space. By definition, car parking space generates traffic. It therefore weakens public transport, which I am keen on strengthening. Secondly, the traffic generated pollutes in terms of fumes and in terms of noise. It is environmentally intrusive to have cars parked in some of the areas where they are parked.
I believe that in general the supply of parking should be allocated by the market, with two possible exceptions. One is obvious. There should be special provision for the disabled. Secondly, there probably should be some bias in favour of the short-term parker and residents.
Declaring an interest as its chairman, I would point out that the Council for the Protection of Rural England has recently put forward the thesis that one of the reasons why there is so much pressure on the countryside is that cities are such awful places to live in. If there are ways in which we can make cities better, we may be able to release pressure on the countryside. This applies particularly to London, where the population has been shrinking for years. Commuters often feel that they have to have a car. If people commuted less they might be able to live in London and might even do without a car. Although I admit that Manhattan is not a place where I would wish to live, most of my friends who live there do not have a car—the game is not worth the candle—part of the reason being that it is extremely cheap to rent cars in the United States.
There is one big gap in the sensible enforcement of car parking provision through parking meters. I refer to the absurd system whereby one may not feed meters. A great deal of the time of meter attendants is taken checking that meters are not fed. The argument used against meter feeding is that people with enough money would be able to stay on meters all day. The fact is that, having introduced sensible parking meter charges, there are now plenty of parking spaces in the most expensive parking areas nearly all the time. The target should be to fix parking meter charges so that at peak times about 10 per cent. of meters are unoccupied. That would show that the charge is roughly the right side of the supply and demand equation. If fewer people were needed to supervise parking meters, a great deal more cash would be generated for something more useful than people making little notes in their notebooks as to what time a car arrived. I have raised this matter over many years and I always receive the same answer from the Department of Transport—that it might mean that people with Rolls-Royces were able to park all day. If it did, so what? And in fact we all know that that is not the way the world works. 223 I shall now give an example of environmental intrusion. I admit that it is a very sensitive subject, not so much for Ministers but for civil servants. I refer to the Horse Guards Parade Ground, which is still used for parking. I happen to remember how parking there originally started. It was more than 30 years ago when Ernest Marples was the Minister of Transport. He wanted to use Horse Guards for temporary car parking over the Christmas period. Being part of a Royal park, he had to get the Monarch's agreement. I believe—and how right she was—that there was a certain disinclination to give that agreement. He described to me how he went along to the Palace to ask for parking to be allowed on Horse Guards. The conversation was not going too favourably and so he went towards the window and started looking out of it. He was asked what he was doing. The answer was, "Well, Ma'am, I am just looking to see how many cars we could fit into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace". That is how agreement was obtained. Parking on Horse Guards has been with us ever since. It is deplorable.
As long ago as April 1993 Dame Jennifer Jenkins recommended very unequivocally in the Royal Parks Review that parking on Horse Guards should no longer be allowed. Her report said:This great London place is regularly packed out with about 400 parked cars … It is quite unacceptable that so fine an open space as Horse Guards Parade should be used in this way … Car parking should be banned from Horse Guards Parade, which should be restored as a public open space".There was huge opposition to such a suggestion from the civil servants who park there. There was a big press campaign in favour of Dame Jennifer's proposal, initially in the Independent, culminating with a splendid article, which I recommend to noble Lords, by Simon Jenkins in The Times. He said:In Paris, civil service cars do not fill the Louvre. Washington officials have not seized Lafayette Square. In those cities, rulers share with the ruled a common respect for the beauty of their surroundings. British officials treat this part of London as the Politburo treated the streets of Moscow as available for their private use at will".I challenge the Government to end parking on Horse Guards. Again, I do not expect an answer from the Minister tonight. I shall, however, be interested to see whether the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who is to speak from the Opposition Front Bench, is bold enough to offer any such hostage to the voters concerned. To coin a phrase, this is an example of the need for the Government to demonstrate that,they are in power as well as in office".
I want to move to another aspect—what one might call the reverse side—of parking. I refer to cycling. The subject recently came up in this Chamber and the negative attitude to cyclists from a small minority of noble Lords did not show your Lordships' House at its most endearing. Bearing in mind that there are 15 million cyclists in this country and also that some noble Lords may be fighting for their political lives, just as Members of another place may be fighting for their political lives, it might be as well to take a slightly more sympathetic and less hoity-toity, poof-dammit view of cyclists.
224 I say at once that Her Majesty's Government have recently changed their attitude towards cyclists. A couple of years ago that attitude also was fairly negative but I am glad to say that my right honourable friend John MacGregor changed the attitude. I should like to welcome PPG (Planning and Policy Guidance) No. 13 of March 1994 which was produced by Mr. MacGregor. Paragraph 4.15 states:The level of cycling in the UK is significantly lower than that in a number of neighbouring countries … Local plans should include policies to encourage implementation of specific measures to assist people to use bicycles. The 'proposals map' should indicate routes along which measures will be encouraged to make cycling safer and more attractive, and any specific new cycling provision".I should also like to congratulate the present Secretary of State on having announced on 4th December 1994 that £3 million will be given towards a 1,200-mile cycle network for London. That is a big plus, which we salute.
Bicycling is clearly healthy and does not pollute in terms of fumes or noise. It is cost-effective in terms of road space. One can get 12 bicycles parking in the space of one car and four bicycles in the space of one moving car. I am told that over the first 10 metres a bicycle can accelerate as fast as a car. I recognise that it is essential to separate cyclists from pedestrians so that we do not have aggro, just as it is essential to separate cyclists from cars. Thirty years ago Buchanan said that pedestrians and cars should be separated as an absolutely crucial part of traffic management.
I have one specific suggestion for the Minister as regards the provision of cycle routes. Very often on one-way streets there are parking lanes on both sides. If one makes a suggestion for doing something, one tries to make one which does not involve extra public spending because it is always very easy to say that we do not have the money. The following suggestion does not involve extra public spending.
I suggest that where there is parking on both sides of the road needed for a cycle route, one of the car parking lanes should be converted into a cycle lane. That would be easy, quick to achieve and very effective. It is important if cycle lanes are created that cars are not allowed to park on them. There have been a number of cases where cars have parked on cycle lanes. There is the deterrent of clamping and big fines, which is the right way to deal with the problem. It should be every bit as hazardous for a car to park on a cycle lane as it is to park on the zig-zag lines in the street. If one is sensible one avoids doing this unless one is drunk or very rich.
§ Lord Marlesford
Or both. I recommend to your Lordships to join a campaign for making cycling in London better, easier and more universal. I conclude by saying that a recent Department of Transport study found that in central and inner London journeys up to five miles are quicker by cycle.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing this subject to us. I am not quite sure where bikes fit into car parking arrangements. I found the last contribution a slight aside. 225 I begin my comments on car parking with our own car park at the House. I find it somewhat disconcerting that the so-called improvements which have taken place are so fascinating that, if, as I did the other night, one were there now watching anyone who has a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, one would see that there is great difficulty in getting out of the car park due to the new turning arrangements. I have been in your Lordships' House since 1981 and in that time I have seen the car park arrangements change several times and each time for the worse. Therefore, I hope that someone will look at them again and try to produce an improved suggestion.
I have written to Black Rod on the point which I now make. It would be wise, particularly early in the morning when there is no one parked in any of the spaces, to have someone there guiding the cars of noble Lords between the white lines. One regularly arrives later in the day to find that one car is straddling two spaces, which further restricts availability.
I now move from the House to the wider subject. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, seemed to be doubtful about wheel clamping. He was not in the House when we debated the subject in great depth. I for one am delighted that wheel clamping was introduced. Before that, as a magistrate, I found that it did not matter if people had pages of fines. They had no effect at all on the offenders. They simply evaded the fines because there were so many in existence. In those days enforcement and collection were pretty hopeless. It was either that or the fine was paid where it was possible to do so. However, wheel clamping changed things completely and people found it an extreme inconvenience to be clamped.
One noble Lord raised a highly relevant point; namely, that, if one collects one's car from a car park, that car park should be well lit. The same thing applies not only to car parks but also to supermarkets. I have spoken to one noble Lord in this House about this matter. I have had a report from women shopping in a well known supermarket off Ladbroke Grove who have found it very frightening to go out to a dark car park. I do not know that for myself, but I understand that that car park has now been lit. It is a most important feature that wherever one parks it should not be a frightening place. That is what is wrong with the underground car parks which have been suggested so often in this debate. With all the mugging that takes place now, people are very reluctant to go into an underground car park to collect their car. Off-street car parking has never had the same appeal as on-street parking.
I wish to correct something said by both the noble Lords, Lord Montagu and Lord Palmer, as regards the idea that revenue collected from parking can be used as part of local authority revenue and finance in general. In the debates on what became the Traffic Act 1991, I moved an amendment in the hope of bringing that provision into effect. I believed that it would be useful for those boroughs which were producing quite a surplus of revenue from car parking to put it to other uses such as social services, but the Government would not consider it. The use of revenue from car parking is very restricted and that does not apply solely to the provision 226 of off-street car parking. The point was reached that so many car parks were produced that people were not using them. But all facilities such as footpaths, roadways and support for public transport can be supported by local authority revenue from car parking, though that money cannot be used as part of the general revenue nor can it be used in any other way. That is an important point to emphasise.
I believe very strongly that there should be international symbols which would solve the problem which we have heard about as regards French or German cars or people from different parts of the country or even London. There should be certain symbols. Ever since the introduction of wheel clamps I have been pushing for an international wheel clamp symbol. I am always being told by Ministers that they will take it up with Brussels and that they believe that there is a case for it, but that never happens.
If there were international symbols, there would be no need for maps or any of the descriptions which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to. One would have local symbols which would speak to people of all languages. I 'believe that it used to be, and still is, the case that as regards parking enforcement in an area one should look at the nearest lamp post. This is meant to carry a symbol detailing the hours of parking restrictions in the area. But most people have no idea where to look. I often find that the little sign on the lamp post is crumpled up and cannot be easily read. Even in areas of residential parking there is very often no indication of the days and hours on which the restriction applies.
I know the City of Westminster better than other parts of London. The hours of residential parking have become very variable. Queensway is an area which ticks all night and has done so for many years. Residents found that there was such an influx of tourists and visitors that there was no hope of parking near home. Residential parking is restricted until 10 o'clock at night. On the yellow lines the restrictions cease at 6.30 p.m. The whole purpose of a single yellow line was to provide a loading bay. If one has a heavy load one is entitled to spend a limited period at any time of day loading or unloading on the single yellow line. The double yellow line is in a different category and one is not meant to park on it at any time, but people do after 6.30 p.m. and they seem to get away with it on the whole.
There is a real problem as regards residential parking. In the City of Westminster there is greater and greater pressure for more residential parking. I find the parking very useful, residing in the area, but if I want a friend or member of the family to visit me, they cannot park in the residents' parking space if they come from elsewhere. For example, if the man from British Telecommunications or the washing machine repair man comes to carry out a service job for a resident, he is in difficulties. I believe that arrangements have to be made for providing for that kind of situation.
Sunday trading is another problem. When large shops are open on a Sunday we shall definitely need some kind of control. That point was put to me years ago by the then chairman of the John Lewis Partnership when we spoke about Sunday trading. He said to me, "You 227 realise that we shall have to bring in all sorts of controls". In the Knightsbridge area, on the Sundays before Christmas when the shops were open, the Brompton Road was totally blocked, as were all the residential streets in the area. There were no parking controls of any sort. Westminster City Council made it clear that they could not bring them in this year in the time available because there has to be a statutory period of notice. Next year, having consulted residents, they hope to do something about the situation. My idea of what that something might be is something that would enable one's friends or visitors to park outside one's house. The question we must consider is how to control parking so as to allow vehicles to move in the street rather than be jammed solid as used to be the case. It is quite a problem.
The Royal Parks have now introduced metered or pay-and-display parking. I welcome that, but I welcome even more the recent study that has been conducted into how parking could be improved in the Royal Parks. The Royal Parks have been treated very much as free all-day car parks by commuters and visitors. People who wanted to visit and enjoy the parks with their children or dogs often had no hope of finding a parking space. That has certainly changed dramatically since the charges were introduced. During the recent cold weather, there was only a small take-up of the parking spaces available. Following consultation, the Royal Parks have announced that people will be able to buy shorter or longer parking times. Those who want to visit the parks for sport or other such reasons want to be able to park for a full four hours. That will now be allowed. The maximum was previously two hours. Those who visit the parks to walk a dog will now find it possible to pay for a shorter parking time. It seemed wrong that the minimum charge used to be fairly high.
More parking zones are now shared between the different boroughs. Reference has been made to the boundaries between the different boroughs, such as those between, say, Kensington and Westminster, or Camden and Westminster. Reciprocal arrangements between the boroughs are now working well. They allow residents of either borough to park on either side of the boundary. That is both new and an improvement. It happens in Boundary Road, where Camden and Westminster join, and in Exhibition Road. I have seen shared parking across a few boundaries and I understand that it is a growing trend.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, that road works are an amazing distraction and inconvenience to everyone. Not only that—they take up a lot of space. That applies not only to road works, but, because of builders' skips, also to building works. I understand that, if a skip occupies a meter space, the full meter charge has to be paid, but, if the skip is on a yellow line, it may be possible to pay nothing although it forms just as big an obstruction as anything else.
The car parking problem will never really be solved to everyone's complete satisfaction. If you have found a good parking spot, you are delighted, but if not, you are aggrieved. In the days of no parking controls, I used to live in Bayswater and I can clearly remember that it was quite impossible for me to get in or out of my small 228 garage because someone had always parked their car across it. When parking controls were introduced, the problem moved to Notting Hill Gate in Kensington. That area then became completely cluttered. When I represented Enfield on the Greater London Council, a large car park was built at Cockfosters so that people wanting to travel into town on the Piccadilly line could park there and travel in by tube. No one used the car park because it was easier and cheaper to park on the street. It was only when restrictions were imposed on parking on the streets at certain times of the day that people decided that it was worth trying to use the car park. Incidentally, if there was a charge for using that car park, it was a very reasonable one.
There has to be some incentive to park correctly. There must also be parking available. No one will ever be able to create enough space to solve the parking problem, but I do not think that off-street parking is the answer. So I look forward to redebating this subject many times in the years ahead, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing the matter to our attention today.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I start by joining other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this debate on an issue of considerable interest to most people who live or work in London. The noble Lord equated his good fortune in getting this debate to a win on the National Lottery. This debate has given me the good fortune of my first opportunity to speak from the Front Bench, although I would not have chosen to do so on such an emotive subject as parking in London. However, I most certainly do not equate it to a win on the National Lottery. I have no doubt which of the two I should have preferred.
Nevertheless, it is my lot to speak from this position on the matter and I do so as the only London borough council leader who is eligible to speak in your Lordships' House. I have approached today's debate with some diffidence because, given the strength of feeling on the subject, I felt that I might be like a defendant in the dock or, more appropriately, in some danger of appearing like a Minister replying to a debate on some particularly unpopular government measure. I do not intend to fall into either trap. I readily accept that there has been some bad practice and that some London borough councils have not done all that they could or should. They may sometimes have been too inflexible. I make no excuse for that and I do not intend today to try to defend it in any way. However, I believe that such instances (which, of course, attract all the publicity) are very much the exceptions rather than the rule. Therefore, I have been relieved to hear that, on balance, all noble Lords have welcomed the changes that have been made.
The London boroughs campaigned long and hard to get their new powers. As far as I recall, all London boroughs supported that campaign. It certainly had all-party support and was supported by most organisations with an interest in the subject, including the AA. It made sense that the bodies which had to implement the restrictions, the local authorities, should 229 also have power and the responsibility to enforce those restrictions. It was sensible to bring the two together, and that has happened.
However, there seemed an impression to start with that all that would happen would be a transfer of power from the police to the London borough councils. In fact, we have seen what is probably the most major change in parking arrangements and enforcement in London for many years. Because it was such a major change, it needed a long period of preparation. Because it needed a long period of preparation, it also needed the input of significant resources by London borough councils, many of which were extremely hard pressed at a time of ever-reducing budgets. I fear, therefore, that in some cases not enough work was put into the preparation for the takeover—with the inevitable results.
Most boroughs took over the responsibility for the enforcement of parking regulations only last July, although a few did so earlier. I believe that Wandsworth was the first, although the whole borough was not involved at the start. Given that that major change happened only seven months ago, it is not surprising that there were teething problems. Those teething problems attracted a lot of publicity, but I believe that the system generally is proving effective and beneficial remarkably quickly. In saying that, I too would like to pay tribute to the work of the Parking Committee for London, which has been of invaluable help in preparing for the introduction of the scheme and in ensuring its effective enforcement. The committee is doing an excellent job and I am glad that other noble Lords have recognised that.
It is not the parking restrictions that have changed in London—in most cases they have been there for years. What has changed is that in most cases this is the first time that those restrictions have been effectively enforced. There is no point in having parking restrictions if they are not going to be enforced. That is the whole object of the change that was brought about by the Act.
The real issue is whether that enforcement is being carried out fairly. Reference has already been made to the excellent work of the parking appeals service. I believe that since July over 2 million parking tickets have been issued by the London boroughs and I understand that less than 1.5 per cent. of them have been judged to have been issued wrongly. That is a pretty good record for a new scheme which is being introduced by new staff on behalf of the councils. On the whole, therefore, the change seems to be being introduced and enforced fairly.
One of the benefits that has already been alluded to is that it is much more accountable and that it is, and will be seen to be, much fairer to motorists. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, paid a deserved tribute to the excellent work done by the parking appeals service. His figures are a little out of date. It has now considered over 2,000 appeals, of which 60 per cent. have been upheld. That does not necessarily mean that the ticket was issued wrongly. But I hope that it will go some way towards restoring the confidence that motorists should have in a fair parking enforcement system. That will 230 take time because any appeals system finds it hard to make value judgments. We have all probably experienced ourselves, or heard from others, mitigating circumstances. It is difficult to make value judgments when trying to assess them.
There have been many results from proper and effective enforcement. There has been an increase in the number of grievances felt by motorists who have "always parked here" and who have started to receive a parking ticket. Rather than feel aggrieved, they should be grateful that they have got away with it for so many years. Now they are not doing so.
One of the popular misconceptions held by those motorists, which has been repeated in your Lordships' House, is that the new system of parking enforcement is some sort of money-making machine for London borough councils and that they are strongly tempted to profiteer from it. I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, correct that impression. She is of course right, and I am sure that the Minister will confirm that, first, the income from the parking schemes has to be used to pay for the enforcement, and effective enforcement is expensive; and, secondly, any surplus that arises from such parking schemes is ring-fenced. It cannot be used, rightly or wrongly—I share the noble Baroness's reservations about that—for any other local government purpose, such as social services. It must be used in connection with parking provision, whether on or off street. It can be used to improve public transport. I would say to those who feel that it is a money-making device, but who also call for better parking provision and better public transport, that this is one of the few opportunities available to local authorities to find the resources to do just those things for which we are calling.
The other result of better enforcement is that it has served to highlight the distressingly large number of unnecessary and wrong parking restrictions. They were not noticed before because they were not enforced before. In most cases they have existed for many years, but no one bothered about them. They were ignored. The traffic wardens and the police took no notice, and they just continued. That has been highlighted. What we need now is not a change in the system but for each London borough to carry out a major review of its parking arrangements and restrictions. Most, if not all, London boroughs—certainly mine—are doing that. We have naturally and rightly had to wait for the new system to settle down, but we now are all, or should be, starting on a major review of our parking restrictions and enforcement.
I want to say just a few words about the review process. The most important part of that process is the informal consultation that needs to take place with motorists and their representatives and also, and most particularly, with local residents. Most parking in London takes place in residential areas. The residents who live on those streets have at least as much interest in that because of their own or their visitors' cars as do other outside organisations. The review process needs to take into account the interests of local traders, especially shopkeepers, local businesses and local employers. The key to achieving an effective parking scheme is a good, 231 effective, informal consultation process before any changes are drawn up. That is where the time needs to be taken and where it is best spent. Having determined through that consultation what changes are required, they need to be implemented quickly.
One of the most difficult things that I have to explain as a council leader is why we go through a long process of agreeing what we want—everyone agrees—and then it takes six to nine months to go through the lengthy legal process in order to implement the changes. My first request to the Minister is to look at how we can speed up the implementation process once the parking authorities have agreed what they want to do.
I want to say just a brief word about pavement parking. It has not been much mentioned today, but it is an important issue. Pavement parking in London has been illegal for getting on for 10 years, but few London borough councils were previously doing anything to enforce that law. Now they are. It is more effective, and it has caused a great deal of concern. In most cases the ban on pavement parking is necessary and desirable for reasons which will be well known to your Lordships. Nevertheless, councils have the authority to exempt roads or parts of roads where pavement parking is clearly necessary. Again, too many London borough councils have not done that, and now need quickly to catch up.
I want to mention a few things that we need. I have mentioned a shorter implementation process. I join strongly with other noble Lords who said that we need much better signage. The regulations governing signage for parking restrictions are those laid down by the Department of Transport and not invented by London borough councils. Those regulations require, for instance, that the sign which shows which hours operate in any particular zone or borough are erected at the entrance to the zone only. Repeater signs are needed. I agree that the present system in London is confusing. We do not want a uniform system for London. That would be absurd because the needs across London are so different. We require much better signage so that motorists and others can see clearly what they are and are not allowed to do.
The parking arrangements need much better publicity. The appeals system needs much better publicity, although it is already working well. The Department of Transport has some part to play in achieving that. The Parking Committee for London and the London boroughs have done much themselves and will continue to do so, but we need more active support from the Department of Transport in trying to achieve that.
One abuse that I was asked to mention is what is called "drive-aways". That upsets my residential constituents considerably. It happens most often at service garages where vehicles are parked illegally on the streets. I know that in some cases someone is employed to keep an eye out for the parking attendant or traffic warden. As soon as one is seen that person goes out and drives the vehicle round and round the block until the attendant has gone and then the driver returns. We need a fair and effective system for dealing with such abuse. Residents who are caught for parking because they cannot spend their whole time looking out 232 of their front windows resent that behaviour. We may need to have a system similar to that which applies for catching speeding motorists.
I want to conclude in the same way as did the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in introducing the debate, and say that we cannot debate parking in isolation from more general transport issues. One of the results of effective enforcement of parking restrictions in London has been to demonstrate that there is not enough space to park on the streets, and there never will be. Any measures to increase parking will only add to the amount of traffic on our roads. There is an increasing view that that needs to be tackled.
We need to judge the debate in terms of a much greater emphasis on the provision of public transport; on making it convenient; and, above all, on making it reliable. That too can be helped by reducing traffic congestion. We need greater investment in public transport, something for which we on these Benches so often call. We need stronger disincentives for commuters who bring their cars into work unnecessarily. I was interested to read a CBI survey which talked about the need to reduce traffic congestion but which also said that four-fifths of its members felt that a company car was an essential part of a benefits package. There is a necessary conflict in that. We cannot have both. We need to produce disincentives for car use in London. Planners can and increasingly are playing an important part in that. Planning guidance has some part to play in determining parking standards which perhaps will not make it so easy in future for people to park their cars.
There is an interesting scheme in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham which is looking at new criteria and implementing new criteria for parking provision. It relates not so much to the number of cars likely to be there but the access to the area to which the planning application relates and access to public transport. That may or may not work, but it is the sort of imaginative thinking that we need.
Parking arrangements in London are already proving to be effective. When the teething problems are solved and the next review has taken place, they will prove to be very effective. We do not need more major changes to parking arrangements in central London; we need a major change to car usage in London.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, first, I must apologise for the state of my voice which, of course, will be in marked contrast to the strength of my case. It may be that the Minister will find himself in exactly the reverse situation. I shall listen, as I am sure will all noble Lords, with great interest to his response to the many interesting points which have arisen in the course of this short debate.
Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute immediately to my noble friend Lord Dubs for initiating the debate. My noble friend had a fine reputation in the House of Commons and also as the executive director of the Refugee Council, where he earned many justifiable plaudits, and I am very proud to be the chairman of that 233 organisation. He has now shown himself very clearly as an expert in this field. I hope that I shall cover some of the points that he raised in the course of my remarks.
I welcome also to our transport debates—for how long it will continue, I do not know—the noble Lord, Lord Tope. He was in another place with me for some period of time. As he has rightly said, he is a council leader. That is not exactly unique because there is a county council leader, but the noble Lord has put forward a convincing and vigorous defence of the role of London boroughs in relation to the implementation of the Act. I hope that he has enjoyed himself on this occasion and will continue to do so.
He is right to pay tribute to the Parking Committee for London. It has done an excellent job. Effective enforcement was another point to which he referred. Of course, that is the key to making progress in that field. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to the need for a coach park. That is a compelling point too.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, challenged me to state my position on the need to end the use of Horse Guards Parade as a parking space. Speaking from the Front Bench, I must not make up policy on the hoof. He will understand that I shall undertake to examine his proposals with great care; to examine the cost implications; and then to consult with my honourable friend Mr. Gordon Brown. All that will be undertaken with great assiduity and care. I shall write to him on the matter in several years' time—perhaps two-and-a-half years' time. However, the noble Lord put forward a very important case for cyclists and cycling and I share his views in relation to that. I have supported his arguments on this subject on previous occasions in this House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, raised an interesting question about international symbols for wheel clamping. That is a very interesting and excellent idea. I wonder whether she is prepared to offer a prize for suitable entries to a competition in that connection. One could think of many symbols which might be interesting. Perhaps the most attractive would be the fine—what you have to pay when you collect your car. The idea which the noble Baroness put forward of parking for limited periods on single yellow lines was another excellent one. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.
Many years ago the famous American comedian and commentator Will Rogers prescribed his solution to traffic problems. He said, essentially, that one should enact legislation which would have the effect of allowing only cars which were fully paid for to use the city streets. He anticipated that that would make traffic so scarce that the city streets would be able to be converted into children's playgrounds. I do not know whether that is something to which we should look but the Government chose, uncharacteristically wisely, to travel down a somewhat different route in terms of mitigating parking problems in London. I welcome what has happened in relation to the Road Traffic Act 1991.
Like my noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I believe that the key to the most effective action is the provision of a much more efficient, reliable and safer public transport system. Without that, we are 234 really tinkering with the problems of parking in London. I believe that it is in that area that the Government have been found most wanting. Therefore, I fear that, unless that situation is remedied—and I do not believe this Government have the will to remedy it—the position will continue to deteriorate.
Within that vital caveat, I accept that the 1991 Act has led to considerable improvements in enforcement of the parking regulations since the Act came into force in July. There is no doubt that there has been better compliance. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, the appeal system has operated fairly successfully and the fact is that councils are much more accountable and are able to provide a speedier response, because of that accountability, to inquiries which arise which affect the interests of motorists. From that point of view, it is a much better system than the regime which existed before.
But we are still at an embryonic stage in the development of those policies. Therefore, it is very timely for us to be able to consider the problems which have already arisen in relation to the scheme. It is much better to be able to address them now than to leave them festering and to do very little about them. It is appropriate that we in this House should be concerned with the causes of frustration and irritation to which some of the anomalies give rise.
Among those to whom we have offered plaudits, I welcome the role of the Automobile Association, which has pursued assiduously some of those problems with the boroughs, with the Parking Committee for London and with the Minister. I should like to touch on some of those points which have not necessarily been raised in the debate in order to elicit from the Minister what has been his response to those points.
A conditioned precedent for establishing special parking areas—this was set out in the parking guidance issued by the Secretary of State to the London boroughs—was that the boroughs should have undertaken a proper review of policies and orders to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State. The AA survey suggests that there has been a considerable failure to ensure that that was done in a number of instances. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House whether that assertion is accurate. If so, can the noble Viscount say why authority was then given to local authorities to implement their schemes in cases where reviews had not been adequately undertaken?
There is a further point in relation to that specific aspect which I should like to address to the Minister. What steps will he now take to ensure that any recalcitrant London boroughs do fulfil the obligation which is absolutely critical in terms of being able to review unnecessary or unfair regulations? They are important points. There are still too many instances—and that is plain from what has been said in the debate—where restrictions are in force which, essentially, may not be needed. There is no doubt that small traders feel a sense of grievance. In certain cases, they believe that their trade has been prejudiced simply because no short-stay parking facilities are provided and that is injurious to their business. 235 I should now like to build on what my noble friend Lord Dubs said earlier. Different, and sometimes even contradictory, policies apply across the metropolis in relation to penalty charges. The AA cited a specific case where a borough was permitting the issue of penalty charge notices which were never attached to the vehicles in question or even given to the drivers, although that was in breach of the 1991 Act. As a result, an extraordinary state of affairs can arise. Motorists who are totally ignorant of the penalty charge until the notice is actually received in the post—usually about a month later—then find that they are denied the option of paying a reduced level of penalty charge. That is grotesquely unfair and, if the AA is right, it is a situation which needs to be remedied.
Another instance cited by the AA suggested that some boroughs were using ticket processing contractors to vet motorists' initial pleas against the issue of a penalty charge. Again, that is in defiance of the guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Of course, it must be the officers of the borough, and they alone, who are vested with that responsibility. I should like to hear the Minister's confirmation or denial of that allegation by the AA. If it is true, I should like to know what he is doing to avoid any recurrence.
A major point which emerged during the debate was the need for regulations that are applied to be properly signed and marked on the street. I endorse that concern. Differing regulations cause great confusion. The case of Lincoln's Inn Fields, where there is a boundary between Camden and Westminster, has been prayed in aid. There are different parking times, especially in the evenings. The area is much used by tourists who go to the theatre and the opera. They assume that parking restrictions end at 6 p.m. in the evening. But they could be sadly wrong. Because of their lack of knowledge about the local situation, I believe that they could harbour a sense of grievance if they have to pay a heavy penalty. Better notification of the system is essential.
Can the Minister say whether the Secretary of State will authorise the department to carry out a review to ensure that signs outlining parking regulations are provided in sufficient number and are comprehensive? Having raised the point, I do not want to assert that standard hours should apply on all restrictions across London. I believe that that would be wholly inappropriate, because there are different circumstances. I shall do no more than merely allude to the point.
There has also been considerable debate this evening about wheel clamping and towing away. I believe that the noble Baroness raised the issue, as indeed did my noble friend, of the location of some of the pounds to which vehicles are towed. They are often situated in inaccessible areas. I know that to my certain knowledge. I have had my car towed away—of course, always grotesquely unfairly. The Minister is totally unused to that state of affairs because he now has someone to drive him. However, it is unacceptable that so many of those pounds are located in inaccessible places.
It is not just the pound itself which is frequently unlit. That is not always the major problem; indeed, it is often the murky surrounding streets which are badly lit. I am sure that many women find it very uncongenial to have 236 to collect their vehicles which have been towed away at night. That anxiety needs to be addressed. It is really an invitation to muggers to concentrate on such areas. Does the Minister agree that such a situation exists and, if so, what does he propose to do about it, especially if he is satisfied that his own parking guidance in that regard is being ignored?
The parking guidance recommends that payment by credit card should be possible—in other words, that people should be able to give details of their credit cards over the telephone to the authorities concerned. Is it true that some boroughs are ignoring that and insisting upon personal visits by motorists to the pounds or the parking shops in order to pay the fee for the release of the clamp? It is unsatisfactory that that should apply. Further, in the light of the allegation that some boroughs have not yet signed up to the TRACE service, which is able to provide the necessary information, is the Minister satisfied that all boroughs are giving motorists the necessary help to recover vehicles which are clamped or towed away?
I turn finally to the question of inadequate car-parking spaces. A parking space was defined by someone as being an unoccupied space about seven feet wide and 15 feet long, situated next to the curb and usually on the most difficult side of the street to get to. It is the place where you take your car to have little dents put into the bumpers. Well, particular difficulties are being experienced—indeed, I believe that the noble Baroness raised the issue —with residential parking. It is particularly acute in areas where large houses have been converted into flats and there is insufficient accommodation for cars. Where permits are given, the choice of roads for residential car parking sometimes seems to be capricious and arbitrary. That gives rise to a good deal of apprehension, because people have to walk for fairly long distances at night from the place where they park their car to where they live. It is a matter which causes me concern. I live in just such an area in Hampstead. My wife constantly says that Hampstead has simply become a glorified car park. At the very least, councils should provide better lighting in such areas.
It would, perhaps, be very much better if the police were to concentrate rather more on carrying out surveillance of such areas so as to give some reassurance to people, especially women, who are returning home at night at about 10.30 p.m. or, on these dark evenings, much earlier. There have been too many instances in my area of people being mugged. It is the cause of much apprehension among many people. I hope the Minister may turn his attention to that issue as well. I think this has been an extremely helpful debate. Like others, I once again pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dubs for having enabled us to cover this terrain.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)
My Lords, first of all I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on having initiated this debate. I believe it has been comprehensive and very wide-ranging and a great many points have been raised. It was with more than my 237 normal caution that I approached handling this debate this evening as almost every motorist I have ever met has at some stage in his motoring career had a grievance about parking. Indeed I was considerably moved by the tales of distress of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, with regard to his absent car. I am sure that it was in exactly the appropriate circumstances that that errant vehicle was removed from our roads.
As I said, a debate like this has covered an extraordinarily wide range of points and I believe it has been extremely constructive. I shall start by outlining the Government's approach to parking in London and then cover as many of the detailed points that have been raised this evening as I can.
Illegal and indeed inconsiderate parking is probably one of the single biggest causes of congestion in London. London Transport estimates that about half of all delays to buses are caused by illegal parking. That is an extraordinary statistic. The cost to all of us is enormous, whether we are on the delayed bus or caught in the traffic jam caused by one or two badly parked vehicles.
Many yellow lines and other restrictions have built up over the years and indeed some of those no longer have relevance. Where they are no longer needed they should be removed. But where they are needed they should be enforced. That is a strong theme that has emerged from the debate this evening. Otherwise a motorist who, for example, parks illegally close to a junction can all too easily create extreme congestion and bring delays to many other users in that area simply as a result of the bad and inconsiderate parking of one solitary vehicle.
The provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1991, which decriminalised many parking offences, have enabled us to put in place a completely new local authority parking enforcement regime which has greatly increased the resources available for parking enforcement in London. I welcome the general support that has been expressed this evening for the provisions of that Act and for the success which it has had in improving the parking situation. The Act enables the London boroughs to designate special parking areas, in which they are responsible for enforcing both permitted parking and the yellow line parking controls. This system began in July last year. By this spring, all boroughs will be enforcing the parking controls in their area, except on the 315-mile red route network, where enforcement remains the responsibility of the police and their traffic wardens. I think that answers one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on his first contribution from his Front Bench. I agree with him as regards his observations on the better enforcement that has resulted from the new Act. It is fair to say that over the years many motorists have come to expect to get away with illegal parking. Often this was because the parking controls themselves were unduly restrictive. This is now changing. Under the new system we are seeking to ensure that both the restrictions and the enforcement are fair and consistent. Under the new arrangements, for instance, motorists who feel they have been unfairly treated now have recourse to an efficient 238 and simple appeals system. In the first instance they can make representations to the local authority but if they are still unhappy with the decision they can take the matter to the impartial adjudication system run by the Parking Committee for London. I wish to take this opportunity to echo the support which has been expressed around the Chamber this evening for that body and for the impartial procedure which is provided. I believe that has been a great help.
Having paid tribute to the work of the Parking Committee for London and to the committee's parking director and his staff, I wish to say a few words about their work in establishing the adjudication system and the tracing system for cars that have been towed away. That is vital work and they carry out much other good work. I believe there has generally been a good reaction to that work.
Many noble Lords concentrated their remarks on revenues that are being generated. The new parking enforcement system allows the local authorities to retain the revenue from penalty charges imposed on those infringing parking restrictions in order—as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, clearly said—to finance the system. While the charges should be set at levels which should enable the system to be self-financing, local authorities should not use the charges to raise revenue or as a means of local taxation. I can assure the House that any surpluses that are created can only be used for transport related expenditure such as public transport or road improvements.
Much has also been said about the new system of enforcement and the new type of attendants. I think it is fair to say that the new enforcement system is still in its infancy. But there will shortly be around 1,100 local authority parking attendants patrolling in London in addition to the 800 or so police traffic wardens. New technology such as hand-held computers is now widely in use and most of the boroughs are contracting out the work to the private sector on the basis of measured performance outputs. I believe that this new type of attendant has been largely responsible for the improved enforcement of the system. I believe that is an extremely important aspect. Improved enforcement has meant that motorists are now less willing to believe they will be able to get away with illegal parking. We believe that for the future there may be scope for extending local authorities' responsibilities, and the use of this new technology is likely to be developed further.
As has been mentioned, the Government have issued statutory guidance to local authorities under the 1991 Act asking them to review the parking restrictions on their roads. The authorities are asked to consider how much kerb space they believe it will be desirable to control; how much of that space should be given over to parking, for what purposes and times and at what charges. They have also been asked how much space should be covered by parking restrictions, the times when the restrictions should operate and the penalties and other sanctions that should be applied in the case of infringements.
The review should consider the scope of all existing regulations applying throughout a borough and whether their continuation would be inconsistent with the new 239 parking policies. The authorities should use the charges, controls and restrictions to balance the supply and demand for kerb and road space in the light of local needs and circumstances and the need to produce sustained improvements in traffic flow, safety and in environmental conditions.
Another area which has brought considerable comment in your Lordships' House this evening has been that of signing. As part of the review that I mentioned earlier local authorities should also ensure that the signing of the restrictions is clear and appropriate. One of the commonest complaints from motorists—a number of noble Lords highlighted this, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and, I believe, my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes—is how difficult it is to discover exactly what the controls are. More and indeed better information on parking can go a great deal of the way to reducing motorists' frustration with the system. The local authorities and the Parking Committee for London have both made significant efforts in this area and we should look to them to develop this further. I urge them to be as consistent as possible and where my department has a role to play in approving non-standard signs we will seek to be as helpful to motorists as we can.
Our guidance also addresses the question of where parking should be provided. Of course, this is both a transport issue and a planning issue. Local authority parking policies have an important and direct bearing on the levels of traffic attracted to an area. They therefore have a crucial role to play in managing traffic, relieving congestion and improving road safety and the environment. That is why noble Lords who have said that the issue of parking is intrinsically linked to traffic flow and many other transport issues in London are absolutely right.
Individual local authority policies will also affect traffic in other areas. Collectively they will affect overall traffic levels in London. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes remarked that if one introduces very restrictive arrangements in one area one is liable to make it very difficult to move in another.
In our recent planning policy guidance (PPG 13) we have issued guidance to the local authorities that among other matters they should adopt reduced requirements for parking at locations which have good access to other means of travel and should ensure that parking requirements in general are kept to the operational minimum. A classic example is my own Department of Transport. When we move to our new building the amount of parking available will be reduced by some 90 per cent.
We look to the local authorities to develop parking policies which have regard to the character and needs of the local area, the quality and accessibility of public transport, and the particular needs of people with disabilities. The policies should in particular make suitable provision for local residents, shops and businesses, and should discourage car use when that can be justified by road conditions and public transport facilities. It should always be remembered that in some cases people with a disability find it much easier to use their own transport. The authorities should use the 240 controls and restrictions to address specific safety and environmental issues and to maintain road capacity at certain key locations.
One aspect of this evening's debate which has surprised me is that little or no mention has been made of the red route network. I mentioned earlier the fact that the red route network will be 315 miles long. Under the 1991 Act the Office of the Traffic Director for London has been established to implement that network. We have given him the objective of having it operational by the year 2000. The traffic director is taking a completely fresh look at parking needs along those roads.
The aim of the red routes is to reduce the impact of congestion and improve the movement of traffic on the main routes so that people and goods can move around London more easily, more reliably and more safely. The red route programme encourages a balanced, thought-out approach to both business and residential parking.
I should stress that red routes do not mean fewer parking spaces. On the contrary, on the pilot red route which runs from Archway to Islington more than 600 legal free parking spaces have been created where none existed before.
Red routes represent the most comprehensive traffic management initiative which has ever been taken in London. Where parking controls are necessary they will be strictly enforced, with stiff penalties to deter non-compliance. They will be supported by a programme of associated traffic management measures. That will help to make better use of existing roads and improve the quality of service they provide. Reducing the effects of congestion will help to ease traffic flows, improve journey times and reliability, and draw traffic out of unsuitable residential and other local roads to reduce casualties.
We believe that safety will be a major benefit of the red route system. We believe that the red route system will cut the present waste in human and economic resources and will help to reduce pollution, which is exacerbated by stop-start conditions.
Providing special help for the efficient movement of buses will improve the attractiveness of their services and contribute to the expansion of London's public transport system. Making conditions better for pedestrians and cyclists and making special provision for people with disabilities will help the most vulnerable road users.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked whether we could speed up the implementation process for traffic regulation orders. We are currently consulting on revised procedural regulations with a view to simplifying those procedures. I take the noble Lord's important point.
My noble friend Lord Montagu asked about coach parking. I can inform him that our guidance to local authorities urges them to ensure that there is appropriate provision for coach parking. The key issue is to ensure that coaches do not park in unsuitable places, as we sometimes see in areas not so far from where your Lordships are this evening. 241 A number of other questions were asked, but I should like to respond to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, in relation to cycling. I am very pleased that he recognised the action of my noble friend the Secretary of State, who announced in December the go-ahead for the London cycle network project in response to the package bid submitted by all 33 London local authorities earlier in the year. The Government have allocated some £3 million for the next financial year. That is the first instalment of support for what will be an expanding cycle network development programme.
Of course there are wide and numerous benefits from increased cycle usage. Those people who will use the cycles will have quicker journeys in inner and central London. Removing cars will provide other benefits for everybody else. A number of environmental, health and wide-ranging benefits can be produced by increasing the use of cycles. I hope that my noble friend Lord Marlesford fully recognises the importance of the contribution that we have made to ensuring that the cycle network goes ahead.
My noble friend Lord Montagu and my noble friend Lady Gardner raised a very important aspect of policy on this matter relating to street works. The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 is aimed at improving the way street works are carried out by the utilities. The Act provides for prior notice to be given to the Highway Authority of all works and a statutory duty for all those concerned to co-ordinate the proposed work. I recognise that it can be frustrating when one is caught in congestion behind road works.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, raised a very specific point about the availability or otherwise of a map or leaflet showing where parking is available in London. Maps are already available which show parking restrictions and where parking is available. These are produced for central and inner London and can be obtained at bookshops. The Parking Committee for London has co-operated fully in the production of those maps. I shall be delighted to obtain one and send it to the noble Lord for his perusal.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked some detailed questions. He asked who was responsible for policing zigzags. Currently the restrictions are enforced by the police. The provisions in the London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill will allow local authorities to enforce them in addition.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made a point about whether cars which break down are liable for penalties. The simple answer is yes. Motorists who break down within these zones infringe the restrictions and will be liable to receive a penalty charge notice. However, the important point is that in practice the adjudication system will consider any extenuating circumstances and, where appropriate, cancel the charge notice.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, made a detailed point about allegations that ticket contractors are carrying out the appeals procedure rather than that being operated in the correct way. We do not have any hard evidence of such practices. It is our view that the 242 appeals should be dealt with under the correct procedures by the councils themselves. There is also the additional appeals procedure which I mentioned earlier.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I believe that the debate on parking restrictions, parking availability, and many other issues concerning the availability of parking in London has been extremely important. We have heard a wide range of valuable contributions. I should like to conclude by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part, and indeed to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his contribution.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene before the Minister sits down. I raised a number of specific issues; he has chosen one. I appreciate that in such a debate it is not easy to deal with all the matters in a short period of time. Will the noble Viscount be kind enough to agree to write to me about those outstanding matters?
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, I have already spoken for some 20 minutes. However, I shall be delighted to reply in the form of a letter to any detailed points to which I have not responded in the course of my remarks.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, perhaps I, too, may thank the many Members of the House who have contributed to the debate for the helpful comments that have been made. I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that in the interests of saving time it would not be appropriate for me to comment on all that has been said. I therefore should like to make one or two brief remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, seemed to advocate meter feeding. I believe that that would destroy the purpose of having controlled parking. It simply means that people would arrive in the morning and arrange for the meter to be fed all day, thereby denying anyone else the opportunity of parking. Having said that, I agree with his comments on cycling. From the Back Benches I find his remarks about Horse Guards Parade appealing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, seemed to suggest that I was against clamping. I am certainly in support of vehicle clamping provided that it is fair and clear. I very much believe that there should be penalties on people who transgress parking controls. I was much taken by her plea for international symbols. It is a great idea. If we had symbols which were clear to people from London, all parts of our country, and abroad, much of the confusion would disappear, provided the symbols were clear and that there were enough in each area so that, having stopped, one knew the state of parking control in that area.
I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for a fair system and for having a local authority review of the arrangements. That comment was also made by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. I thank him also for his other kind comments.
I welcome the Minister's support for the review which should take place in every local authority area. I welcome what he said about better signing. I am not sure how much force lay behind his comments. If he will urge London boroughs to consider their signing and to be critical of it, I should be even happier. 243 Except in passing, I did not comment on red routes because it is a wider issue than parking. However, certainly in the borough of Wandsworth there was much opposition to the red route system and the effect that it would have in generating more traffic, with difficulties for both local residents and shops on the routes.
As regards maps, I appreciate that they are available. My point was more a debating issue: that the situation regarding parking in London is so complicated that no map could possibly explain it to anyone. It is the sheer complexity of the arrangements which make the situation hard for foreign visitors and results in foreign visitors being penalised.
To sum up, I believe in tough enforcement. I believe that that is the message from the debate. However, I believe that the system should be fair and be seen to be fair. It should be clear to every motorist and other road user. At present it is not clear and therefore is not seen to be fair. Finally, I believe that the better the public transport system that we have—we do not now have a good one—the more easily will those other arrangements fall into place.
It has been a good debate. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.