Not a byelection issue: parking

Parking is certainly an issue in Hanover. Put two or more Hanover residents in a room together and you can lay odds they will be talking about parking within the hour. Everyone has an opinion on it, except our potential councillors.

All the election literature I’ve seen so far (except the TUSC leaflet, which avoids mention of anything specific to the ward at all) follows the time-honoured formula when approaching a divisive issue – say something that reassures voters you will listen to them, without expressing any opinion of your own.

Thus we have almost identical statements from David Gibson: “We will work together on solving long-standing issues like parking, recycling and waste disposal” and Emma Daniel: “Problems like rubbish and parking are difficult to resolve, but if I am elected, I will consult the community properly and do everything I can to ensure that your views are heard”.

Even Robert Knight, the Conservative candidate – who has nothing to lose, since he has no chance of winning – manages to come up with a forthright sounding statement on parking which actually says nothing: “Parking is a big problem with parts of the area now the City’s unofficial free car park, whilst other areas fear the encroachment of controlled parking. A solution that suits all local residents is urgently needed.”

Of course, I understand why the candidates are reluctant to commit themselves to any particular position on this issue. It is a difficult problem to solve, and there is a history of highly emotive campaigning by some residents against pretty much any initiative from the council that includes a hint of restriction on parking.

My view on this, I freely acknowledge, is a pretty extreme one. If I were in charge of the council I would:

  • turn over a small patch in the middle of every north-south street in Hanover to grass, so that children (and everyone) could safely and easily use the streets for play and socialising, and travel around the neighbourhood on foot from an early age
  • introduce a residents’ parking scheme, with hefty charges for parking private cars on the street
  • reduce the number of car parking spaces available to a safe and legal level
  • massively increase on street bike parking
  • add more car club cars with dedicated bays
  • lay on free shuttle buses to the London road and the station
  • do anything else I could think of with the aim of transforming Hanover into a predominantly car-free neighbourhood

I don’t suppose I would get elected standing on that platform, but I think it’s worth pointing out that doing nothing about parking in Hanover is also a pretty extreme position. All the while we continue to do nothing, we are living with a situation in which:

  • parked cars line both sides of most streets in Hanover, impeding access for emergency vehicles
  • in some streets, cars routinely park on the pavement, forcing pedestrians out into the road, especially people with buggies, wheelchairs or small children
  • in Elm Grove, in particular, it is common practice for people to drive along the pavement to access “parking spaces” on the hardened verge
  • cars are often parked right up to and around the corners of streets, obstructing sight lines for pedestrians (especially children), cyclists and drivers
  • our area is used as a free car park by visitors to the town, people doing their shopping in the town centre, staff at American Express and people from other areas of town trying to avoid paying for parking permits
  • 62% of car journeys made by Hanover drivers are within Brighton

To widen the issue out slightly, all the while we accommodate the domination of our city’s streets by private cars, we are living with:

  • unacceptably high levels of air pollution
  • traffic queues through the town every weekend in the summer
  • bus passengers being prevented from accessing open spaces because too many people have travelled there by car

Everyone agrees that parking is an issue for Hanover & Elm Grove, but nobody can agree on what to do about it. Last time the council proposed to control parking, in 2010, it was met with a vigorous campaign from the do nothing faction, and the proposal failed to attract majority support. Though I supported the CPZ proposal, its design left a lot to be desired. A few of us produced a detailed response, with a range of ideas for the future, but spaces in which such ideas can be discussed are few and far between.

Since then we have tried to make our own spaces for that discussion – in Grove Street and the Hanover Centre last September, and in Southampton Street, Coleman Street and Scotland Street this May. There’s recently been a very encouraging survey in Scotland Street, resulting in clear majority support for more bike parking. We also now have the interesting example of a few streets in the neighbouring Queens Park ward which have been transformed by controlled parking from the cluttered environment we are used to in Hanover, to much more open and pleasant places to be.

I know the candidates won’t venture an opinion of their own on this issue, so my third question to them is: What are your proposals for enabling residents to help design parking changes in Hanover?

As ever, feel free to supply your own answers and views in the comments box.