Thursday, 15 February 2018

Monty Python's Parking Circus

Warning, the following is a long off topic rant about anti-social parking and how dealing with local authorities sometimes feels like living in a surrealist comedy sketch.

The area where my wife and I live suffers from anti-social and illegal parking. Most houses have some off road parking, but most were built before widespread car ownership and don't accommodate modern volumes. It wouldn't be too bad if households had a couple of cars each, but some have small fleets of five or more (more than they can physically drive), and that's without those who prefer not to use their off road parking, or the twats who use this residential area as a storage lot for their commercial businesses.

We have two driveways, one at the front, and one at the rear, both accessed via dropped kerbs. Both have suffered from obstruction by anti-social scum, the one at rear being particularly problematic. In July of last year my wife applied to Surrey Highways for access protection markings (H bar) across this rear dropped kerb in the hope it would deter pondlife, and in December it was installed. Access protection markings are advisory only, so have no legal value, but they 'advise' the existence of a crossover, and crossovers are protected by Section 86 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. Since the markings went in I've been regularly reporting obstructions to the local 'parking enforcement' team, which have been duly ignored until two weeks ago when I was astonished to receive two replies in succession.

Parking enforcement in Tandridge District is shite. Surrey County Council devolve enforcement to the boroughs and districts and some years ago Tandridge District Council (TDC) outsourced its enforcement to neighbouring Reigate & Banstead Borough Council (R&B). R&B runs token enforcement in Tandridge, a skeleton crew working primarily Monday to Friday daytime, cover more than twenty small towns and villages over ninety-five square miles. Report an offence and you'll get an email saying someone might look in 24 hours, apart from Sunday's when they won't bother. There's no worries about offenders being fleeced by over-zealous wardens hunting profits; parking offences aren't just widely ignored, the absence of enforcement means penalty charge revenue is so limited the 'service' makes a loss.

Local councillors are well aware of the problems and the general shiteness of 'enforcement'. I know because I used to be one and I'm still in contact with my former colleagues. Unfortunately, the district and parish councillors who favour meaningful intervention lack required influence, whilst the county councillor who has influence is mildly sympathetic but reluctant to go as far as meaningful intervention. His reticence is partly due to seeing it as low priority versus Surrey County Council's serious financial problems, but it probably doesn't help that local twats have become conditioned to getting away with their parking offences. The robust solution proposed by those committed to meaningful intervention is a residents parking scheme, but Surrey Highways doesn't want the hassle and there will be a contest between residents who want the problems tackled and residents who cause the problems. A half-way solution would to replace R&B with fit for purpose enforcement, using professional processes and staffing, this would pay for itself, but the inconvenience to offenders remains a political consideration. A couple of years ago the county councillor did support a scheme to reduce double yellow lines around the intersections, this would have freed up extra parking spaces, but it was repelled by residents who pointed out this would prevent access for larger vehicles like refuse collections (already a problem) and would make the area into one giant bottleneck.

So, back to the unexpected responses from R&B. Okay, they were so late as to be useless but it was progress surely? To my eye it looks like R&B has upgraded its reporting system, a cynic might note that the TDC contract comes up for renewal soon; but given that R&B has shown little interest in the contract I suspect that it's more down to the local parish council bunging some additional subsidy its way to try and get a little bit of attention. Whatever, it's welcome intervention, but a little pathetic given a fit for purpose enforcement regime wouldn't need a bung, fit for purpose regimes up and down the country make surpluses just by covering the basics.

However, the responses were eye opening, firstly they pointed out the obstructing vehicles had been removed, fairly fucking predictable given it took two or three days to investigate. But there were other dubious remarks. Both responses stated R&B couldn't enforce advisory markings, disingenuous sophistry given nobody was asking for this, the reported offences were crossover/dropped kerb obstructions which are enforceable. Also, one of the responses stated that they were not able to enforce partial obstructions, only complete blocking of the  crossover. This really did piss me off, as having repeatedly read Section 86 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 I know it does not make any such claims. As a former councillor I'm also well practised in spotting the tricks used by statutory authorities to shirk responsibilities.

I wrote back challenging both claims, and I even got a reply on the latter point (it seems the cheap wheeze conflating advisory markings with crossover obstruction wasn't worth defending). It said:

"Section 86 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 as amended does grant local authorities with Civil Enforcement Powers the power to issue a Penalty Charge Notice to vehicles which are parked adjacent to a dropped kerbs inside of a Special Enforcement Area. However, please be advised that partially obstructing or overhanging a dropped kerb is not an offence which local authorities are able to enforce. In order for the vehicle to be issued with a PCN, the vehicle would need to be parked adjacent to the dropped kerb. However, please be advised that partially obstructing or overhanging a dropped kerb is not an offence which local authorities are able to enforce. In order for the vehicle to be issued with a PCN, the vehicle would need to be parked adjacent to the dropped kerb."

It seems fair enough, until you read it carefully sentence by sentence:

"Section 86 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 as amended does grant local authorities with Civil Enforcement Powers the power to issue a Penalty Charge Notice to vehicles which are parked adjacent to a dropped kerbs inside of a Special Enforcement Area."

Yep, that's true, I've read the relevant section several times.

"However, please be advised that partially obstructing or overhanging a dropped kerb is not an offence which local authorities are able to enforce."

Hmmm... this is not so clever, the Act itself makes no such claims. It's hard to see how it could be, it would have to define what partial obstruction is, opening up a whole new can of worms.

"In order for the vehicle to be issued with a PCN, the vehicle would need to be parked adjacent to the dropped kerb."

This third sentence is consistent with the first one, but it contradicts the second sentence if you're interpreting them all literally. A vehicle overhanging or partially obstructing a dropped kerb is 'adjacent' to that dropped kerb if you understand the term 'adjacent' in its literal sense. Was I going mad? No. I went and checked in several different dictionaries, here's what the online version of the Cambridge Dictionary says:


So a car overhanging a dropped kerb is adjacent to that dropped kerb, it's physically impossible for it not to be adjacent. More expansive definitions of adjacent actually use synonyms such as contiguous and overlapping, which are even clearer on this point.

So what is going on? Is there some figurative or metaphorical reading of the Traffic Management Act 2004 which reconciles the mutually exclusive claims within R&B's response? Is it possible to be physically adjacent but simultaneously not physically adjacent for the purposes of R&B's claims?

If there is a special exemption for vehicles parked physically adjacent to a dropped kerb, but only overhanging or not completely obstructing, what is the objective definition of this? There has to be an objective definition, otherwise it gets too complicated. How does it work if you can get ingress or egress to a motorbike but not a transit van? Is that partial obstruction? Fuck knows! This the problem when logically inconsistent claims are made. Maybe reconciliation can be achieved by some legislation or statutory instrument omitted from the statement? Maybe R&B has been asked to go soft on parking offences, maybe that's why it's shite, and I'm unfairly maligning apparent indifference? But if that's true why not simply make it clear to the public there's no point in even reporting parking offences? The whole fucking thing is batshit.

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