Eric Pickles was in the news again yesterday with his fourth pronouncement – within a matter of weeks – on car parking. It comes ahead of some new Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) guidance that will, apparently, aim to make sure councils do not ‘undermine’ themselves with parking policies that make parking and driving in towns too difficult.
Pickles seems obsessed by the idea that High Street decline is entirely a consequence of the alleged onerousness of driving and parking within towns. This new guidance – to appear later this week – is accompanied by Pickles arguing that
“Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores, taking their custom with them. Over-zealous parking wardens have inflicting real damage on local economies and given many towns and councils a bad name. Town Halls need to ditch their anti-car dogma. Making it easier to park will help support local shops, local jobs and tourism.”
Evidence for these assertions remains lacking. Indeed the document Pickles seems to refers to [pdf] on parking seems to contradict what he is arguing (H/T John Dales); namely, it shows that there is no clear relationship between footfall and the cost and availability of car parking.
In another soundbite, Pickles argues
“Draconian Town Hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park.”
Again, no evidence for the assertion that a lack of places to park is creating congestion.
To be clear, I have no particular problem with car parking being provided for those who wish to drive to town centres, at a reasonable price. But what Pickles – and indeed his department – seem to be arguing is that car parking should be provided exactly where motorists want it to be. Right on the High Street itself; right outside the shops people want to visit.
It is surely this thinking about the ‘convenience’ of parking that lies behind Pickles’ silly ideas about allowing people to park on double yellow lines for short periods; the notion that a short walk from a car park to the places people actually want to shop or visit is incredibly difficult, or off-putting. Parking must be provided right where people want it, because we can’t expect them to use their legs.
Applying these kinds of policies would be tremendously counter-productive, because it would destroy the attractiveness of high streets. We know that pleasant, thriving streets – the ones people want to visit – are the ones where traffic and parking is restricted. There may be parking nearby, but the street itself is free from parked vehicles, and motor traffic in general.
By contrast, streets where driving is easy, and parking is provided directly outside shops, are usually awful, unattractive places, even if they lie in prime locations.
These are not thriving places. They are places where the street environment has been poisoned by accommodating motor traffic.
The most curious aspect of Pickles’ arguments is his opposition to ‘clutter’, or ‘unnecessary physical constraints’; the clutter that makes ‘driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful’.In another quote provided to the press, he argues that
“street clutter is a blight, as the excessive or insensitive use of traffic signs and other street furniture has a negative impact on the success of the street as a place.”
From a man who seems hell-bent on increasing the amount of motor vehicles cluttering up our streets, this is a curious approach. To my mind, this is a cluttered street -
Pickles doesn’t seemed concerned at all about this kind of clutter, concerning himself instead with intrusive signs, or bollards, or humps, which he thinks discourage people from driving. But this is just complete nonsense. Streets clogged with motor vehicles like this are unpleasant places.
There is a good example in my town, where the council has commendably taken action to convert a horrible, traffic-filled street into a place where people actually might want to hang around. About ten years ago, it looked like this -
Just ghastly for anyone who wanted to visit the shops here on foot – that is, everyone.
About three years ago the street scene was improved with a ‘shared space’ surface, with restrictions on motor traffic to just loading and disabled access. Then last year the street was closed fully to motor traffic during the day, so the restaurants could use the space, and people could go about their business without having to worry about motor traffic.
The picture below was taken today, at the same location. Judge for yourself the difference to this street, from closing it to motor traffic and removing parking.
Now of course I suspect many people here did arrive by car; not many people walk or cycle (or take the bus) into Horsham. However these motorists simply used the many car parks in Horsham, and then walked to the streets they wanted to visit. The same is true for most of the people walking on the streets in Horsham’s centre, which is now almost entirely pedestrianised. These people have not been put off by a bit of walking.
Scenes like these would be destroyed by allowing parking anywhere on double yellow lines, or by by removing these constraints on motor traffic. Councils like Horsham would kill the very thing that makes High Streets attractive; they’ve worked this out form themselves.
Eric Pickles seems to want to declare a war on clutter; on bollards like this
that stop people from driving and parking wherever they want. The clutter and unpleasantness that inevitably results when you remove restrictions on motor traffic in town centres is, amazingly, completely invisible to him. It’s shockingly shortsighted.