What I talk about when I talk about pavement parking
I really hate pavement parking. I really do.
It is a crime that costs local councils huge amounts of money as they need to repair broken paving slabs. It is a crime that reduces pavement space for those with disabilities and additional accessibility requirements. It is a crime that consumes public space with private vehicles.
It is a crime that people are not pushed to due to their socio-economic circumstances or mental health or drug issues.
It is a crime people are pushed to out of a sense of entitlement alone.
But there is another reason why I hate pavement parking and that is, it remains me of how ineffectual I am as a local politician.
Data acquired by Proviser.com through Freedom of Information requests, suggests that Lewisham Council issues 113,445 Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) per year on average. In the last two years, we have issued 9,222 PCNs for footway parking (Contravention Code 62). This equates to approximately, 4.1% of all PCNs in the borough, being issued for illegal footway parking. This is near the London average, of 4.5%.
Parking on double or single yellow lines (Contravention Code 1), equates to 11.6% of all PCNs issued in London and parking in a resident parking zone without having or displaying a valid permit (Contravention Code 12) equates to a whopping 18.6% of all PCNs issued in London.
Anecdotally, it seems like footway parking is far more common than this lowly figure of 4.5% would suggest. It may just be that footway parking is more obviously visible than someone parking on a single yellow line at the wrong time. But I have my doubts…
To me, the fact that only 4.5% of all PCNs in London are being issued for such a frequent crime, suggests a widespread and systemic failure to punish offenders for this practice.
In outer London, on average only 24% of kerb space is parking controlled (in Lewisham it is 23%, way below in the inner London average of 77%). But looking across these boroughs, it is clear that their parking enforcement action is focused in parking controlled zones — with tickets being issued for Contravention Code 12, topping the tables in nearly all outer London boroughs when it comes to the percentage of PCNs issued.
Controlled Parking Zones are funded through resident permits and due to their narrow operating hours, they can be enforced efficiently. Attempting to enforce against on-street parking contraventions, outside of CPZ or single yellow areas, is extremely difficult.
The amount of times I’ve heard that a traffic warden will not be sent to a location because ‘the vehicle will have likely moved by the time they have arrived’ makes me want to weep. We have traffic wardens, but they seem to only patrol select areas within key operating times. It is efficient, but it is failing Londoners.
I have requested whether a cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken to assess whether hiring an adequate amount of traffic wardens to be able to sweep the entire borough, would be financially viable. Would the amount of income generated from fines from footway parking, for example, pay for the increase in wardens? I have yet to receive an answer. And with our transport team threadbare because of cuts, I wonder if anyone is left to carry out such analysis.
All in all, it seems to have become clear to me that if you want anything to be done about on-street traffic violations near your home, you need to be within a Controlled Parking Zone. While savvy criminals will know they can park on the footway outside of operating hours, and get away with it, a CPZ should prevent drivers from illegally placing their vehicle on the footway for days on end.
Footway parking opens up ‘more space’ for parking, making it easier for people to own and store private vehicles. Therefore, it helps induce demand for cars in areas that are often highly accessible to public transport. Expanding Controlled Parking Zones across the entire borough might actually help us tackle the worst cases of long-term footway parking. It would also help our borough achieve the targets set out in our transport strategy to reduce car dependency and encourage walking and cycling.
I await to see whether Lewisham’s Mayor and Cabinet have the political will to fund (despite it eventually paying for itself) and push Controlled Parking Zone coverage across the borough up to the inner London average (77%) or beyond. While this would undoubtedly improve the situation, it won’t tackle the issue completely.
The fact that London’s local authorities lack the resources to combat such an obvious crime bothers me. Enforcing against footway parking doesn’t need detailed investigations — it just needs a warden to see it, wait a few minutes, then throw out a fine. Yet still, we are unable to do it.
Peel away the surface and very little is holding our public infrastructure together apart from public goodwill and solidarity. Our public bodies, such as local councils and our police force and now incapable of tackling a vast array of offences in any meaningful sense.
My casework emails pile up with concerns about dodgy landlords failing to carry out repairs and with amateur developers breaking planning regulations. I know they’ll mostly get away with it. Often it is not that our enforcement powers are toothless, is it that there isn’t enough staff to do the leg work.
I churn through emails about speeding, fly-tipping, and anti-social behaviour, knowing almost nothing can be done. And the problem only grows. Thefts and burglaries are now entering the domain of the crimes that are effectively decriminalised because the police do not have the resources to properly investigate them.
Successive Governments’ desire to tax income and not wealth and their failure to tackle the housing crisis, has meant young people are being punished to a unique extent in modern-day Britain. But beyond our crippled Gen Z and Millenials, who routinely vote for more progressive taxation (but not in large enough numbers to be worth listening to), I begin to wonder what is in it for the asset-rich Gen X and younger, healthier Boomers.
Private wealth can shelter you from a lot of realities of austerity – you won’t become part of the hidden homeless, you likely won’t ever need children’s services, and you can pay for private mental health services. NHS waiting times might jar you a little, and you remain anxious that later life care will take your unearned housing wealth – but don’t worry, poorer and younger people will pay for that. Yet surely, surely, people want something more for the children and more for their towns and their cities? Surely they want decent infrastructure and a police force that can do its job, at an absolute minimum.
Can older voters solely be driven by an urge to hoard their wealth to pass onto their children in 20/30/40 years time? Are they not fed up with a crumbling public realm, threadbare local services and our knobbled police force?
Lewisham Council’s budget has been cut by 60% since 2010 due to the slashing of local authority grants. 70% of what is left of our budget goes to a relatively very small number of vulnerable people who need social care support. There is an issue of democratic legitimacy here. I am surprised that more of the public are not turning around and saying, what’s in it for us? If you’re of working age and are not likely to ever engage with your social care services, what are you actually getting from the current system?
If you’re a worker who does not need social care, you are paying into a desperately unfair tax system and getting almost nothing in return. And things are only getting worse. Cash-strapped local councils are raising ‘arbitrary and unfair’ Council Tax, just to plug the holes in their social care bill and keep the town hall lights on.This is the nation’s status quo, and it keeps on winning.
So, perhaps what angers me about footway parking is just how little people care about it. How that if the bins are just about collected, and streets just about swept, people are not that bothered about the public realm — as they have shown in their voting behaviour.
Whenever I see a car parked across the pavement on my walks around my ward, it reminds me of why I am angry. And it reminds me of how little power I have to change things.