Coronavirus: Transport chief slams guidance for councils on parking as ‘unworkable mess’

Hackney’s transport boss Cllr Jon Burke. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

Guidance for councils on parking controls during the pandemic issued by the Local Government Association, London Councils and the British Parking Association has been slammed as an “unworkable mess” by Hackney’s transport chief.

Local authorities are advised by all three organisations that “the majority” of parking enforcement should cease during lockdown, with officers told to focus on providing help and advice as to where people can and can’t park, as well as to encourage poorly parked vehicles to move rather than issuing parking tickets.

Councils are further encouraged to focus any enforcement activity on “obstructive or dangerous parking” with significant impacts on safety and access for emergency services, including junction yellow lines, loading restrictions or obstruction of dropped kerbs.

Cllr Jon Burke, who leads on transport for Hackney, said: “Our system is much more robust than the one they’re suggesting other local authorities employ. We’ll be continuing to follow our system, because this is an unworkable mess. They’re calling on boroughs to free up space for key workers, but to abandon parking controls as well.

“The whole basis upon which we’ve been able to provide over 2000 parking exemptions to keyworkers and frontline staff is because those limited spaces that are available in the borough are kept clear for those people.

“This guidance encourages us to turn the role of parking enforcement on its head, which is to tell people who we do not want driving into this borough and parking here where they can go and find spaces elsewhere in the borough. We don’t want them to park here in the first place.”

The transport chief went on to predict that, as the impact of the pandemic grows, there could be a “complete collapse in availability for key workers” without robust parking enforcement.

Noting that the guidance strove to be a best practice guide for local authorities to offer parking exemptions to those most in need such as NHS staff, Burke argued that relaxing enforcement at the same time makes the advice a “Frankenstein’s monster which is less than the sum of its parts”.

Burke added: “It comes from a good place, but it’s really important not to confuse, in this crisis, action with leadership. Leadership is action with thought.

“This in my view lacks the nuances that are required to address some of the cascading effects, by encouraging local authorities to not engage in parking enforcement, but also to provide spaces for key workers.”

The three organisations stress that towing away of cars to vehicle pounds should only be done as an “absolute last resort” during the crisis, noting that in residential areas, parking demand may outstrip supply with most staying at home.

The guidance adds: “This additional pressure will need to be managed carefully to prevent obstructive parking hindering emergency services and the delivery of essential supplies and services, such as waste collection.

“However, to especially help those who are self-isolating, authorities should take a pragmatic approach to unlawful parking if it is not dangerous or causing an obstruction, particularly in residential controlled parking zones.

“Authorities should consider maximising parking spaces in one-hour single yellow line restrictions where commuters might usually park, by relaxing those parking restrictions to enable home working.”

Hackney’s transport department, however, takes the view that parking enforcement is what keeps the roads clear for emergency vehicles, as well as discouraging people from making short journeys between different areas of Hackney and potentially spreading the virus while doing so.

Burke, who also is responsible for public realm, parks and energy, pledged that frontline services within his portfolio will continue to be delivered “as if there was no pandemic,” in order to give the public confidence that key services are under control.

A London Councils spokesperson said: “The guidance that London Councils has developed with the LGA and the BPA seeks a common sense approach to parking management during these challenging times. The guidance provides sufficient flexibility for individual authorities to manage their streets and car parks as they feel necessary whilst implementing the Government’s direction that no NHS or social care worker should pay for parking during this emergency situation.

“It is important that people continue to respect parking and traffic rules, which are there to keep essential traffic moving and keep everybody safe. The guidance states that authorities may need to continue some level of enforcement to ensure good compliance with important controls.”