10/10/2009

Stalemate - Officers and Cabinet disagree on parking enforcement

This week’s meeting of the Ceredigion Traffic Management Consultative Committee (17 syllables – not a bad effort but not quite in the premier league of unfeasibly long council committee titles) brought out into the open something many of us have known for years - that council officers and cabinet members have opposing views on the best way to manage parking in Ceredigion, resulting in chaos in many streets.

This summer the whole of Aberystwyth has been policed by just a single, hard-working traffic warden. The police have made it clear that they will not be devoting more resources to this at any time in the future and have even suggested that they may one day withdraw from parking enforcement altogether. They would like to hand the job over to the County Council, a move known as ‘decriminalisation’. The great benefit of this is that, instead of parking fines going straight to the UK Treasury, as they do at the moment, the fines are paid to the Council who can then recycle the money into more staff and resources to manage traffic.

One by one, councils across Wales are doing this. Then, as well as properly enforcing yellow lines, they use their new powers to introduce residents parking schemes to bring order to street parking by taking on commuters who would rather park in the street than use a car park.

Using residential streets as a free car park may seem understandable from the point of view of commuters and shoppers but it can make life intolerable for local residents. There is little sympathy for this problem from people living in more suburban or rural areas – they regard it as simply a price people must expect to pay for living in a town - but it has serious demographic knock-on effects. People have increasingly moved out of town centres due to the daily inconvenience of being unable to park in the street anywhere near their own homes. This is particularly a problem for people with young children and the elderly.

When town family houses are sold they are frequently bought by developers who break them up into flats, turning town centres into bed-sit land. There’s nothing wrong with a few bed-sits but town centres need the right mix of flats and family housing if they’re to retain their core community that holds the place together. That is in danger of being lost in Aberystwyth.

Tourists visiting the town aren’t part of the problem - they generally assume that Aberystwyth has the same standards as everywhere else and use the car parks. People regularly commuting into town however know the situation and tend to park wherever they like, making the streets increasingly chaotic. Council officers, who read their trade journals, know the way things are going across the country and have gradually become convinced of the need for the Council to take on the parking enforcement role from the police. Cabinet members on the other hand, mostly representing out-of-town areas where car commuters live, don’t want to see better enforcement and certainly not residents parking.

Ceredigion's Cabinet member for Highways, Ray Quant, was honest this week in saying that he and the Council’s senior officers are in disagreement. The result is a stalemate leaving Aberystwyth’s street parking largely unpoliced.

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