It is reported that the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, is proposing changing the guidance so that motorists should be allowed to park on a double yellow line (or single yellow line when the restrictions apply) for 15 minutes before getting a ticket.
What actually emerges as policy remains to be seen. The Lib Dems have a strong anti-motorist faction. The Transport Minister, Norman Baker, the Lib Dem MP for Lewes, says allowing parking for "very long periods of time" would be "unworkable."
Does he think 15 minutes is a "very long period"?
There is already usually a "period of grace" allowed for loading and unloading. Why is that "workable" for loading, but "unworkable" for a pop to the shops? Why is it "workable" for five minutes but "unworkable" for 15? Does he think it is "unworkable" for his constituents in Lewes to be allowed 20 minutes for loading and unloading on yellow lines by East Sussex County Council?
Although local councils don't tend to publicise the fact, there is already a five minute period of "observation" allowed under "operational guidance" to see if there is any loading or unloading activity before a penalty can be issued:
8.50 For continuous observation, the standard procedure is for the CEO to note the vehicle details when they first see a possible contravention taking place and stay next to or near the vehicle, keeping it in sight at all times, for a set period (usually at least five minutes) to see if there is any sign of loading or unloading. If not, the CEO will issue a PCN.
These parking restrictions make it hard for high street shops to compete against big supermarkets or online shopping. In his Spring Conservative Conservative speech, Mr Pickles said:
“There's one area where we need to do far more for local shops.
13 years of Labour's war on the motorist has created an over-zealous culture of parking enforcement.
Extending CCTV, not to catch criminals, but to catch you out the moment you park on a yellow line.
A rigid state orthodoxy of persecuting motorists out of their cars, with no concern about its effect in killing off small shops.
Officious parking wardens move in faster than a Liberal Democrat on the M11.
This needs to change.
Councils should allow more off-street parking spaces, to take pressure off the roads.
They should end dodgy town hall contracts which reward and encourage the proliferation of fixed penalty notices.
I believe we need to give people the good grace to pop into a local corner shop for 10 minutes, to buy a newspaper or a loaf of bread without risking a £70 fine.”
AA President Edmund King said:
"Rather than just allow drivers to park on double yellow lines, a thorough review of the lines would be more effective.
‘Many double lines are there for historical reasons and could be lifted."
But it's not either/or – is it Mr King? It's both. It is in the nature of Highways Department bureaucrats that they want to extend their empires. For them a pot of yellow paint is the path to more power, more revenue, more staff. To his credit, even Mr Baker has challenged this when it comes to his constituents in Newhaven.
There are some places where there is a genuine need for yellow lines to help maintain traffic flow. One of the reasons for removing them where this is not the case is that the enforcement team can focus their efforts where they really are needed.
So Mr Pickles should press ahead. But councils should do their bit too. Where possible they should be turning double yellow lines into single yellow. Or getting rid of yellow lines altogether.
Localism should be maintained, but councils should be given a nudge. Let us have a New Parking Space Bonus in the spirit of the New Homes Bonus. There could also be a bonus for each parking space freed up by a single yellow line that was hitherto a double yellow line. There could also be a penalty for those councils that fail to provide any new spaces. Let us suppose that an annual target of 1,000 new parking places per 100,000 residents is applied for the next three years. The bonus of exceeding, or penalty for missing, the target is £1,000 a place. So a net provision of nil, for a council with 100,000 residents means a cut in grant of £1 million. If they create 2,000 extra places they get £1 million extra.
Such a policy could revive our high streets quite a bit.