Thursday 24 January 2013

Fear and loathing, not in Las Vegas

I wasn’t planning to make a thing of car-parking stories, but this is topical.  It is also tangentially connected with my interest in cycling, in that it reveals a culture, of car dependency and car hegemony, in which I don’t believe cycling can ever flourish.  Certainly, apart from the daily commute via the station into London, cyclists are a  rarity here.

I wrote here  about “fury” over parking control proposals in my local town of Haslemere, and how it has set the interests and wishes of many residents, inconvenienced by the actions of inconsiderate motorists from outside the area, against a small but well-organised and strident pro-parking lobby.

In response to their lobbying, the County council modified some proposals and withdrew others, advertising the revised scheme for statutory consultation in October and November with a full-page spread advertisement in the local paper and individually canvassing every household in every one of the streets directly affected.  In two nearby streets which are considered to be indirectly affected they canvassed residents who have no off-street parking, because on-street parking is not possible in those streets and residents therefore park in neighbouring streets.  The proposals now comprise a mixture of some double-yellow lining, some time- and limited-stay restrictions to prevent all-day parking, and some residents-only parking restrictions.

Needless to say, the parking action group hollered long and loud about the undemocratic nature of the consultation (open to all, required 28 days consultation period) and the lack of advertisement (eh?).  They evidently mobilised their claque to make as much noise as possible in the consultation, as can be seen below.

The Local Committee of the combined County and Borough councils is due to meet on January 24 to consider their officers’ report on the proposals.   The officers’ report has recently been posted on the Surrey website.  Agenda Item 7, Annex 2 summarises the detailed objections, and in some cases supporting points, made in relation to individual street proposals.  Annex 1 provides a table summarising extent of objection and support for each proposal, and overall.  This analysis is revealing.

I think the officers have chosen their words carefully. They list “Total number of objections that were received to proposals at each location”, of which they count 507,  and “Support received for each location (letters or petition signatories)” of which they count 248.  They further refer to 137 of the objections where “Displacement was mentioned as a concern by many but often without being specific.”  Finally, they state that “Total correspondence received during consultation period = 382”.

Now, I can’t be sure, but my reading of this is that 248 letters or signatories of petitions of support represents, or closely represents, 248 separate respondents.  But there were only 382 items of correspondence so presumably that is the maximum number of separate respondents on both sides.  Taking away the 248 supporters, that leaves 134 individual objectors making 507 objections – an average of 3.75 each.  This is further supported by the footnote “Some letters objected to a single proposal, others to several and some all. The figures above represent the number of objections [my emphasis] made to each proposal where it was possible to identify.”

The displacement issue itself is interesting.  The issue, simply, is a concern that motorists who are evicted from parking in one street will “displace” to another rather than giving up altogether on the idea of parking, and so will exacerbate the issue for residents where unrestricted parking remains – a perfectly understandable concern for those who might be affected by it.  Curious then that displacement was mentioned by nearly twice as many cases as the parking action group estimates the number of displaced parkers, and four times the number estimated by the County’s officers?

My speculation – which I hope to be able to draw out from the officers – is that a minority of total respondents signified on average nearly four but at maximum up to ten objections each (ie all ten advertised schemes) not by saying “I object to everything” (some, apparently, said just that, without stating any grounds for their objections), but by saying ten times over “I object to [...]”.  With certain themes, notably displacement and comments about Network Rail expanding the station car park (which is entirely beyond the County’s control) being repeatedly voiced, I suspect but will probably never see proof that many letters of objection were in effect cloned from the same text, provided to friends and neighbours by the parking action group activists.  I must also wonder whether there would have been more than 248 supporting respondents, if the County’s  advertisement had asked not just for objections, but also for supporters to comment, as evidenced  by another of their footnotes: “The statutory advertisement requested objections, but supportive comments were made in some cases.”

Where does that leave us?  While many of the proposals will go ahead, some will fail due to a small but noisy lobby acting against the interests of many, which is a depressing thought.  On the other hand, if it is really true that local authority consultations of this kind are simply numbers games which can be played-to-win by determined and well-organised activists (and I have some doubts about that, where the authority is hell-bent on the scheme anyway) that could bode well for the outcome of larger schemes which cyclists have an interest in.  For example, in favour of the current proposals for extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 to Stratford, or against the proposed Silvertown Tunnel which leaves cyclists marooned on the Dangleway for their river crossing from Greenwich to Canary Wharf.

No comments:

Post a Comment