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Will ending Whitehall interference make charges more competitive - or just shift blame to local councils?

Efforts to bring an end to Britain’s “war on the motorist” are continuing, claim Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, after announcing that central government will no longer set guidance on parking charges.

With cash-strapped councils likely to be unwilling or unable to reduce parking charges, the practical impact of that change in policy is unclear, although handily it does mean that Whitehall can now deny responsibility for unpopular charges and instead blame local authorities for them.

According to a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which Mr Pickles heads, “Ministers are today removing national planning restrictions put in place in 2001 that required councils to limit the number of parking spaces allowed in new residential developments and set high parking charges to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport.”

Those restrictions are seen as part of the former Labour government’s so-called “war against the motorist,” as it has been dubbed by Conservative politicians, a campaign which the coalition government promised to bring to an end shortly after May’s general election, including through measures such as the scrapping of funding for new speed cameras.

The statement from Mr Pickles’ department says that the government believes that the 2001 restrictions “unfairly penalised drivers, led to over-zealous parking enforcement, and increased unsightly on-street parking congestion - putting the safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at risk.”

Those restrictions came a decade after the Road Traffic Act 1991 had introduced by John Major’s Conservative government paved the way for councils to engage their own civil enforcement officers to deal with parking-related issues.

“From now on,” says the department. “councils and communities will be free to set parking policies that are right for their areas. This could include taking into account the effect of parking charges on the vitality of their local economy and local shops. Councils wanting to attract shoppers through setting competitive local parking charges in town centres will now be able to do so without interference from Whitehall.”

At the same time, the government has said that it “wants councils to promote electric vehicle charging points in new developments to encourage more green drivers, without making developments unaffordable. As part of this Ministers have announced their intention to allow charging points to be built on streets and in outdoor car parks without the need for planning permission.”

Mr Pickles commented: "Whitehall's addiction to micromanagement has created a parking nightmare with stressed-out drivers running a gauntlet of unfair fines, soaring charges and a total lack of residential parking. The result is our pavements and verges crammed with cars on curbs endangering drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, increased public resentment of over- zealous parking wardens and escalating charges and fines.

"Today the Government is calling off Whitehall's war on the motorist by scrapping the national policy restricting residential parking spaces and instructing councils to push up charges. We expect councils to follow suit. From now on communities have the freedom to set competitive local charges that bring shoppers to the high street, proportionate enforcement and the right number of spaces for new development. We're getting out of the way and it's up to councils to set the right parking policy for their area."

His counterpart at the Department for Transport, Mr Hammond, added: "This is a key step in ending the war on the motorist. For years politicians peddled the pessimistic, outdated attitude that they could only cut carbon emissions by forcing people out of their cars.

"But this Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people - and that by supporting the next generation of electric and ultra-low emission vehicles, it can enable sustainable green motoring to be a long-term part of Britain's future transport planning."

Communities and Local Government Minister Greg Clark said: “"Limiting the number of drives and garages in new homes doesn't make cars disappear - it just clogs residential roads with parked cars and makes drivers cruise the streets hunting for a precious parking space. That's why I'm pleased today to get rid of another daft, interfering rule that has only succeeded in annoying people."

On BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Clark was asked whether the government was simply shifting the blame for unpopular charges onto local governments who, the BBC pointed out, were under huge budgetary pressures at the moment.

Mr Clark, who is the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, claimed that the current system was “neither green nor good for the economy,” and claimed that by setting competitive parking charges, local authorities would be able to attract trade back to local high streets from out-of-town shopping centres.
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.