What is ‘clutter’?

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.

The A24 in the centre of Morden, south London

The A24 in the centre of Morden, south London

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.

This entry was posted in Absurd transport solutions, Bollards, Car dependence, Eric Pickles, Horsham, Infrastructure, Parking, Pedestrianisation, Permeability, Shared Space. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to What is ‘clutter’?

  1. I heard about this on the radio, it’s headline news. Have you heard of the legislation that exists in Holland where they always have to build shops like supermarkets in walking distance of where people live. That means you have to build shops when you build houses, if there aren’t any close by and you can’t put a shop somewhere you can’t get to easily on foot. The proliferation of out of town stuff was the big mistake in the 80’s and building housing estates with no local shops like in Ely where there is literally nothing other than the centre and out of town. It’s amazing how these old dinosaurs just can’t see the long term implications of their actions.
    I also get the impression that he believes that everyone gets into a car the minute they walk out of their front door and that that’s the only way to transport yourself to the shops. It’s like the city councillor on the Ely City Council where I am also a City Councillor, who really couldn’t understand how on earth you do shopping by bike. How do dinosaurs who seem to have now idea outside their own doorstep be able to make decisions that effect so many?

  2. Arthur says:

    To be fair to Eric, he is a very fat man. I imagine parking and walking really is an issue for him (though the ministerial driver will help with that…) so lets not be too harsh on him.

  3. JamesFMG says:

    I don’t think that last comment is appropriate. However much we disagree with Mr Pickles we should refrain from attacking him in this personal way.

    • fonant says:

      I don’t think that was an attack, it was just a comment. Overweight people do find it more difficult to walk more than short distances, and this group would appear to include Mr Pickles.

      We have a problem here in the UK with too many fat and obese people, which is getting very serious and costing us all a lot of money. Making it easier to drive everywhere and walk as little as possible is precisely the policy that got us into this mess.

      I vote that we follow Mr Pickles’ plans for a year as an experiment. Make all parking free of charge, and allow parking for “a reasonable time” anywhere, whether or not there are double-yellow lines. We could also allow cars to drive down previously-pedestrianised streets quite cheaply. I’m sure that will lead to plenty of useful experiences about the effectiveness of his ideas!

      • jake says:

        If his skin is as thick as his neck, he’s unlikely to take offence.

        I hope he carries through his policy without hypocrisy and extends a welcome mat to the various parts of the traveler community looking for somewhere to park a caravan or crusty bus for a few harmless weeks.

    • completely agree with fonant. When someone is overweight, walking even short distances can become the most massive inconvenience. Cycle of destruction…

  4. dancarins says:

    There are lots of examples of crap roads that were accessible by car and consequently awful that have been transformed through pedestrianisation (New Street in Birmingham is an obvious one, but High Street in Solihull is another); converesely there are plenty of examples of the opposite – where what could be a very pleasant shopping environment has been ruined by allowing cars access: Stourbridge in the West Midlands for starters.

    Anyway, don’t worry. It’s August, after all. This will disappear.

  5. Government minister shockingly shortsighted – Eric Pickles is unfortunately just another one in the queue to demonstrate willful ignorance. Too attached to the comfort blanket of their dogma, evidence is the last thing many of them want to consider. Remember Iain Duncan Smith who said he didn’t need statistics because he believed that what he was doing worked. They’re all happy to go on the evidence of their own experience (almost exclusively a highly privileged one) and the assumption that their view of the world is the normal one. Frightening isn’t it.

    • fonant says:

      I suspect, in fact, Mr Pickles is being quite logical. I wouldn’t be surprised if he, and his many friends in high places, have large financial interests in the oil refining and motoring industries. Why else do we still have government policy to build expensive new roads when motor traffic levels are falling, and when even the Conservatives realised the futility of this idea last time they were in power?

  6. Jake says:

    I think the comment about Pickles being very fat is a legit point – people base their views on their own experience, and then if they are in government they make policy from their views. We’ve got a bloke who, the whispers going around DGLC suggest, sends junior members of his office staff to Victoria Station Burger King to collect lunch for him. He’s making policy on whether it’s acceptable to walk into town centres or whether people should be able to park on them. Depressing, but it does make a difference.

    • jake says:

      Why not compromise with Pickles & do what the Dutch do? If your car is electric, under a certain size & power (smaller than a G-Wiz), you can use the cycleways and park pretty much where you please. Instant victory for a cleaner, greener city. Bye bye Jag, hello velomobile.

      • Andre Engels says:

        I am not going into the question whether what you propose is a good idea, but it is not as you say “what the Dutch do”. The vehicles you probably mean are not electric cars, but special vehicles for people with disabilities to going around in. Requirements are a technically enforced maximum speed of 45 kmh and maximum dimensions of 1.1 meters wide, 2 meters high, 3.5 meters long. Also the driver has to actually need it because of a disability: If the driver is not disabled, the vehicle counts as a moped, which is not allowed on most cyclepaths.

  7. paul gannon says:

    I guess that the rush of publicity seeking pronouncements by the Secretary of State for Communities is primarily aimed at attracting conservative voters away from voting for the UKIP. The UK Nostalgia Party is indeed full of longing for the days when the car was King and cyclists were satisfied with the gutter. As long as Pickles thinks he can get more votes by playing the ‘stop the war on cars’ tune, then we can expect more of this sort of hypocritical nonsense.

  8. Lego Cyclist says:

    The case for making towns accessible for pedestrians and cyclists is made right here: http://www.cycling-embassy.dk/2013/08/26/are-cyclists-good-customers/. These days I am much more likely to cycle into town with my family than take the car. It’s more relaxing and we are more likely to stay and have a coffee or lunch within the nice pedestrianised streets, instead of queuing to get into a car park then racing round town before our ticket runs out. It’s amazing what you can carry in a basket or panniers, so that’s not an issue either.

  9. Andre Engels says:

    Rarely has something made me feel so much on another world, here in the Netherlands. The city center of any city or larger town looks like Horseham’s: a number of pedestrian streets, which sometimes allow bicycles as well, sometimes not. If you come by car, there are parking areas at the edge of or just outside the center. In fact, comparing maps with similar-sized cities in the Netherlands would make me call Horseham’s pedestrian area ‘compact’. I don’t think that a street like http://imagene.youropi.com/hinthamerstraat-winkelstraten-1%28p:location,2808%29%28c:0%29.jpg would get more shoppers if people could park their car there…

  10. RichardL says:

    It’s just not good enough. Eric, that upstanding member of the Daily Fail Party of the Small-Minded and Big Bellied, is leaving us in a right pickle by not providing enough access for cars. I think shops should have their front windows taken out so that drivers can reverse in (or go in forward, who cares if there’s a pedestrian or cyclist in the way when the do so?), have their shopping put into the boot and drive to the next shop. Shops the way they used to be are such old hat–people should be able to drive *into* them.

    Meanwhile I spotted a large gentleman (shall we say) at work today. He was in a wheelchair; his legs were blue. I’d estimate that he has advanced type-2 diabetes from years of doing no exercise, smoking too much, drinking and eating junk (from drive thru takeaway joints?). He’ll end up in hospital, in a the sort of ward I used to visit as a student selling newspapers to pay the rent. His legs will have been amputated to save his life and from then on he’ll have to be cared for at home by a loved one. Others get long term heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, depression and so on. By the way, assuming he uses the NHS, the treatment for his preventable conditions will have been paid for by you and me.

    Diets don’t work, we’ve recently learned (BBC). People suffering overweight and obesity do not exercise *because* of their conditions. We need to do more to prevent overweight and obesity. What does work, preferably from an early age, is a healthy, active lifestyle in which, incidentally and by pure good fortune, people tend to lose weight and maintain a healthy balance. People who take up cycling as part of cycle training and cycling on prescription (addressing all sorts of other issues such as depression) often go on to take up other forms of exercise, too. But we need more than this because cycle training will only do so much: high quality infrastructure coupled with marketing efforts and measures to deter unnecessary short car journeys are also essential. Creating liveable cities with vibrant, exciting streets and spaces rather than car-canyons is critical to this.

    As it happens, I don’t approve of drive-in shops. Or out of town shopping. I do approve of the British Parking Reports’ finding (which is the same as an earlier study by Sustrans in Bristol) which shows traders’ perceptions are very different to the reality when it comes to parking. It’s not drivers we should be tempting to town centres so much as pedestrians, public transport users and cyclists. After all, these groups are the least likely to cause trade leakage other than for goods they need to travel to obtain. They support independent shops, markets and local shopping parades due to their more frequent visits. Indeed, on single visits, pedestrians and bus users spend more than car drivers; the same is true of cyclists but over several visits.

    Who is causing the decline of Britain’s town centres? Lots of people, and particularly motorists.

  11. I recently visited Bristol – Park & Ride on the outskirts by the M5 and then £4 bus fare on the A4 bendy-bus (OK, for Bristol, Boris). A fair bit of bus priority and dropped right in the city.

    Trouble is, Bristol is still clogged with traffic and seems very car-centric – all day parking in the centre still cheaper than the bus if there are a couple of you though. The pedestrianised areas were packed…

  12. michael says:

    Municipal heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your town centre’s supply of active visitors is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of obstructive material on its major “arteries” – that is, the roads and pavements.

    Over time, these these “arteries” can become completely clogged up with parked vehicles. This process is known as municpal atherosclerosis. The clogging is caused by a combination of plastic and metallic elements known as ‘cars’, and fatty deposits called “Pickles”.

  13. Jim A says:

    I went to Lewes the other day – what should be a pleasant, historic town like Horsham – but the ambience of much of Lewes is completely spoilt by constant heavy traffic charging around its streets. There are a few pedestrianised bits but the town centre is horrendous.

  14. Andrew K says:

    I believe that motor-vehicles are unnecessary street clutter and should be removed.

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