I want to be entirely honest with you and say that a desire to get involved with parking was not a motivating force for me when I was thinking about trying to become a councillor. But here we are, just over six months in, and I would say that parking is probably one of the main issues that we have been asked about, raising enormous passions, confusion, anger, and even conspiracy theories. Sometimes all at once.
I like to think that I understood even before summer 2014 that parking was important to residents … but I think if I am forced to reflect then I realise that I didn’t realise just how important it was. One could speculate for hours on exactly why this is. Obviously increasing pressure on parking spaces is one. I wonder also about the interaction between public and private space that a place for one’s car on the road represents. But the practical upshot is, it’s very important to a lot of our residents. And this importance is why I want to try to write another blog post on parking (remember the last one? Of course you do! In the unlikely event that you haven’t printed it out and glued it into your diary, here is a handy link.) to explain where we are now, and why.
In the summer, we – which is to say Newham Council, but led by the Council’s parking design department – consulted on parking in various roads in Forest Gate. This included roads in Forest Gate North and Forest Gate South, and even a little bit of some roads that go into Manor Park ward. There is a certain undeniable logic to consulting on a large area all at once. It’s obviously more efficient, both in terms of getting the message out but also in terms of time and effort planning the consultation. It also recognises that parking problems do not exist in isolation – if one road requests a Residents Parking Zone (RPZ) and gets it, then some of the people who don’t live there but were parking there anyway will just move their cars on to the next road. And so on, and so on. But the downside is that a larger consultation area will almost inevitably include people who do not want their road to be within an RPZ. And thus it proved.
We received a fair amount of feedback. I want to be balanced about this – actually the numbers of people contacting us probably weren’t huge. But they felt huge, because the strength of feeling definitely was enormous! We were contacted on twitter, by email, and in the street. We received questions, comments, suggestions and even a petition. As well as all the issues and queries mentioned in the last blog post, we also heard from people whose households owned more than one car, and who were therefore unmoved by our telling them that (unusually compared to other boroughs) in Newham the first residential parking permit for each household is free. I have to admit that it was with some relief, therefore, that we found out that the returns from the consultation in Forest Gate North echoed the feedback we’d had: broadly speaking, people in Forest Gate North did not want their roads to be part of an RPZ. Letters to that effect have now been sent out to everyone in the consultation area.
Whilst a final decision was being made about those roads outside our ward with a less clear-cut response, we received another request from residents for an RPZ, this time in St. James’ Road over in the west of the ward. Whereas our initial feedback from Sebert Road had been via individuals, this came in the form of a petition, with broad support from a number of residents.
Fresh from the summer of parking, Ellie, Seyi and I proceeded with caution. I can only imagine how much the officers in Parking Design must love us. We went through two different drafts of the proposed area, questioning each boundary and why it was there. We pored over the diagram, learning about what the different colours and different proposed types of bays were, and asking what I am sure was a series of very ignorant questions about all of it. We went through the letter to residents with a fine-toothed comb (and rewrote parts of it, I hope to make it clearer), and we met with the officers so we could all be completely clear about what was being proposed, why, and how it would all work. The officers were very patient. Overall, I think it’s fair to say all three of us had learnt some lessons!
We learnt a little bit about how resident-led RPZs work, too. Whilst it is definitely true to say that the abiding principle is a democratic one (“If the residents on a road want to have an RPZ, then they can have one!”) this lofty idea is somewhat complicated in the implementation by the practicalities. Parking restrictions have to be easy – or at least possible – for motorists to understand. They should be clear and not change suddenly, or vary in a confusing way between small areas. To create an RPZ, a group of roads are collected together into a parking zone – which needs to be at least a certain size – and the restrictions within the zone all operate on the same days, and the same times. In practical terms, this means that if you live on a road next to an RPZ that operates Monday – Friday from 10am – 12pm, you would be quite unlikely to be able to bring in restrictions just on your road which were 7 days a week, from 9 – 6.30pm. This is because your road could not be a zone by itself, but would normally be added into the zone of neighbouring roads. So introducing those longer hours on your road would mean changing the hours in the whole of the neighbouring zone. Similarly, you can’t leave a single street ‘island’ of unrestricted parking, surrounded by RPZs. It would be a target for anyone wanting to park in the area, and would be unfair.
With this new consultation in St. James Road, we initially considered consulting with a wider area, but then remembering the feedback from the summer we went back and redrafted this so that the area under consideration is as small as good parking design could make it. This means a few of the neighbouring roads to St James’ road are included, but only just as many as were required to make a cohesive and straightforward zone extension.
This is not an uncontraversial approach. It is highly likely that some of the pressure on St James’ Road will move along to Odessa Road (not part of the consultation area), and we have accordingly briefed officers to be ready to consult there if residents ask. Some residents on Odessa Road will probably ask why they weren’t included initially, and I suppose the answer is that we are acting a little more cautiously now, realising that some people will always believe that we have an agenda, appreciating that when a consultation is created many people will believe the decision is already a fait accompli, and aiming to consult only in places where we know that there is a definite desire for the creation of an RPZ. This approach may change over time, but we wanted to explain it here in order to be transparent about what we are doing and why.
The other thing to say here, which is definitely controversial, is that if I were a betting woman (I’m not) I would say that I would be astonished if there was as much unrestricted parking in Forest Gate North in say 10 years’ time as there is now, and my bet would be that there will be RPZs here in the future. As parking pressures continue to increase, I think residents will want them.
For what it’s worth, I live in the ward, and I find it quite handy to have freedom to park without permits. I often can’t park very near to my house, and with three small children and mountains of stuff to carry around this is no picnic, but I tend to shrug this off as being part of London living. But then I previously lived in a part of Newham which had an RPZ and I can honestly say I didn’t find that enormously inconvenient either. A little, perhaps, when it came to visitors, and trying to keep a supply of permits for them. But otherwise it was very easy to live with – and it was in fact much easier to park close to my house, as well . But I can’t help feel that the combined pressures of increasing traffic, the pressure from other RPZ extensions, not to mention the impact of Crossrail, will mean that parking continues to be on the agenda, and eventually keeping parking unrestricted will prove untenable.
I could be wrong! (and I can assure you I don’t have any inside information on this, or any masterplan to carry out) But that is my prediction, and it’s perhaps worth bearing in mind when we all, together, think about what will happen in the future.
The only thing I am certain of, is that there will definitely be more on this blog about parking in the future, and many more conversations with residents to come…