Should parking policy be strengthened by weakening local authorities' powers to act rationally on the basis of evidence? Don't be daft | JOHN DALES
I consider this question to be misleading, inadequately supported by any evidence of the benefits considered likely to arise, and badly out of context - indeed somewhat hidden - in this consultation document. There is a fundamental conflict between the assertion in paragraph 2.77 that "Parking standards are now matters for local authorities" and this proposal to limit local authorities' powers to set parking standards as they see fit in the local context. Furthermore, while this question appears (highly inappropriately) under the sub-heading 'Expanded facilities for existing retailers', it is plain - as indeed the Secretary of State made clear in his press release of 26th August - that this proposal has very little, if anything, to do with facilities for retailers and everything to do with new housing development. Irrespective of its merits, this question is therefore, at the very least, very badly located within the consultation. It is also grossly misleading, to the point of humour, that the proposal to restrict local authority's powers in this regard should be in any way described as strengthening parking policy.
At heart, this proposal is fundamentally misguided in terms of enabling wise local planning. The public highway is an extremely valuable public asset, and parking standards are a key element of a broader parking policy designed to manage that asset in the best interests of the local community. In my considerable experience, maximum parking standards are never set 'arbitrarily', as the Secretary of State alleges in his 26th August press release. Rather, they are typically closely associated with the availability and quality of other transport choices. The purpose of setting parking standards is, in part, to discourage the unnecessary use of cars for local trips, and thereby to make local streets safer, easier and more pleasant to move along by other modes and, simply, to be in. In so far as maximum parking standards may be likely to lead to overspill parking on the public highway, local authorities have powers to manage this, again on a basis deemed to be appropriate locally. This is another element of a wise, joined-up parking policy.
Taking the current discussion paper on the Right to Challenge Parking Policies into account, it seems clear that the Government's approach on parking is to limit local authorities' powers across the spectrum of parking issues. This, in turn, seems to be based on the simple belief that removing restrictions on parking, and indeed driving, will have a direct and positive effect on the economy generally and the health of local high streets in particular. However, as far as can be ascertained from Government documents and ministerial statements, this belief is based on little more than opinion, anecdote and 'concerns'. By contrast, there is a wealth of objective evidence that points to the greater importance of other modes of transport to the health of local high streets, and to the negative impacts of increasing traffic levels and poorly-managed parking on the quality of the high street environment. The recent experience of Aberystwyth is highly salutary in this regard.
In closing, and in accordance with the Government's own Consultation Principles, I consider that Question 2.16 should be withdrawn until "every effort (has been) made to make available the Government's evidence base... to enable contestability and challenge".