Westminster Councils Trojan horse good news parking story

Dropped kerbs in Westminster are to be painted with double yellow lines to stop motorists blocking essential access points for wheelchair users and parents with prams.

Councillor Danny Chalkley said “Painting double yellow lines across sections of lowered kerb will send a clear message to motorists that these vital access points should be kept clear at all times.”

The scheme will be rolled out across the city on a ward by ward basis with Regent’s Park Ward being the first to receive double yellow lines across 49 dropped kerb locations.

You could be forgiven for thinking the three paragraphs above were taken from this months Westminster City Council press release. The above statements are indeed from a Westminster Council press release, but the upbeat PR missive promoting  ‘essential’ and ‘vital’ works to protect access for the disabled  is actually over two years old, having been published in September of 2009. ( view source )

After a two year city wide roll out the council seemed to have hit the buffers as when looking around the streets of the West End today (Dec 2011) you will be hard pressed to find any dropped kerbs exhibiting that ‘clear message’ of gleaming freshly painted double yellow lines.

So why did the roll out stop rolling?

Could it be that the very real awkwardness of navigating the London streets in a wheelchair has somehow been overcome by the invention of an all terrain Mars Rover inspired mobility scooter?  Perhaps a modestly priced 4×4 wheelchair, capable of mounting even the steepest of Westminster kerbs had come to the market, making the expensive chore of lowering kerb stones and sloping paving slabs now redundant?  Or had Westminster Council officers discovered something about dropped kerbs that made them turn their backs on the needs of the disabled?

Unmarked dropped kerbs make lots of money.

A dropped kerb

A dropped kerb

The dropped kerb became a significant revenue earner in February 2009 when Westminster Council first began enforcing against vehicles parked adjacent to dropped kerbs. Most dropped kerbs only had a single yellow line and no warning signage, it was now illegal to park in front of one no matter what day and time it was. Some motorists were selfish, parking across the dropped kerbs ignoring the needs of others, showing a number of drivers were unaware of the new rules and some had simply not noticed the dip in the kerb stones, probably due to the lack of any special road markings or signage. At the start of the new drop kerb enforcement the city council instructed CEOs to only issue warning notices instead of the normal £120 penalty charge notices (PCNs).

Soon the council suggested that as a significant number of road users had learnt to avoid blocking dropped kerbs future offenders were to be issued with PCNs. From then the dropped kerbs marked out only with a single yellow line became a lucrative honey trap in the busy streets of the West End, which had the highest concentration of dropped kerbs in the borough.

In the first 6 months of the council enforcing the new dropped kerb rule they had issued 6,000 dropped kerb parking tickets, allowing them to trouser up to £600,000 from parking tickets. Handy though, as by the time dropped kerb money was rolling in the council was being forced by the DfT to shut down its lucrative CCTV parking enforcement network.

The council still faced accusations of revenue raising and risked getting another drubbing in the main stream media, as parking campaigners were relentlessly pointing out to Westminster City Council and the DfT how idiotic it was not to clearly mark drop kerbs with double yellow lines. The DfT were as useless as the council, claiming the reason for not having clear double yellow lines in front of dropped kerbs was because it went against their policy of de-cluttering the streets of unnecessary signs.

Disabled groups were not happy either noting that issuing £120 PCNs for blocking disabled access benefited the council but didn’t keep the dropped kerbs very much clearer. One prominent Westminster disabled group had even submitted a petition one year before the enforcement began calling for the council to mark dropped kerbs with clear double yellow lines. The council treated that petition the same way it treats every petition, landfill!

Then Westminster Council attempted to fob off campaigners, once suggesting it would be too expensive to add an extra yellow line in front of a dropped kerb as they estimated each one would cost in the region of £2000.  We can only speculate the contractor was charging £60 for the tin of yellow paint a ruler and a painter diverting the remaining £1940 costs to a favoured ex council officer now turned £1940 per day consultant hired to make sure the invoices got lost.

In September 2009 Westminster City Council published what looked to be a good news story press release announcing the city wide roll out of double yellow lines to clearly mark out dropped kerbs. But so as not to kill the West End dropped kerb honey pot the roll out was to start away from the area most affected by confused or selfish motorists, in Regents Park ward.

Hopes of happier pedestrians and motorist faded as the ‘city wide roll out’ turned out to be a very slow roll out indeed.  Suspiciously the roll out stopped rolling before it got to where it was in most need, the West End streets. Westminster Council were left to use the lucrative PCN stick method of trying to stop motorist parking in front of dropped kerbs, rather than a bright yellow line of paint. Still it brought in extra revenue, and the disabled groups and parents with prams PR angle could be used again in the future, should the council suddenly need to push through a yellow line painting blitz.

This week Westminster Council announced plans to replace nearly 8 kilometers of single yellow lines with double yellow lines in the West End. They revived the ‘disabled and parents with prams’ PR story to use as a Trojan horse to shield and deflect criticism of the news. It’s doubtful anyone would criticise plans to make mobility for the disabled easier and safer, especially considering the raw deal they’ve had in nearly any transport considerations so far.

What Westminster Council will be doing:

  • Streets in zones E, F and G are subject to conversion of 7948 metres of single yellow lines to double yellow lines
  • The scheme starts from the 9th January 2012 and is NOT experimental
  • From the 9th January – 24th January motorists who illegally park on the new double yellow lines will receive a warning notice instead of a Penalty Charge

What Westminster Council say about the extra double yellow lines:

Cllr Lee Rowley

Cllr Lee Rowley

Councillor Lee Rowley Cabinet member for spin, illusion, misdirection and all other parking related headaches said when announcing what he described as a good news parking story;

“Well at the moment people, some people, not very many are parking either close to or at junctions, which isn’t allowed in the Highway Code and they’re getting tickets and they don’t like it. Also people like [the disabled] are finding it very frustrating that they can’t get around because of the cars blocking the dropped kerb. So what we’re trying to do here is make it absolutely crystal clear for drivers and for pedestrians where you can and can’t park on bits of streets where there are problems. So actually hopefully this will reduce the number of tickets we issue for drivers, so they’ll be happy. It will stop people parking in front of junctions so people who want to get about will be happy and the council will be happy as a result.”

“Of the 180 streets that we’re doing in 175 of them we are only altering the junctions. The idea that we are withdrawing thousands of spaces is just nonsense.”

Double yellow lines to be put infront of All Souls Church

Double yellow lines to be put infront of All Souls Church

When pressed as to how many parking spaces will be lost because of these changes Rowley thought that as only 5 or 6 streets are having additional double yellow lines added that he would guess that around 100 spaces where cars could park legally out of controlled hours would now be lost.

The point he wanted to get across seemed to be that it is already illegal to park in front of a dropped kerb, irrespective of whether it has a single or a double yellow line. So those dropped kerbs which are changing from single to double lines will not affect the number of available parking spaces.

Martin Low City Commissioner of Transportation estimates that 16% of single yellow lines are being converted overall in the three zones.

Both Lee Rowley and Martin Low do not consider that the single yellow line conversions will have an impact in the number of available car spaces on single yellow lines outside of the enforcement hours. Rowley also believes that no one will be forced to use an off street car park if they don’t want to as a result of these changes.

So why isn’t everyone happy?

A lot of people have had their eyes opened having witnessed in person how Westminster Council conduct themselves. From the start some have been treated with a condescending ‘like it or lump it’ attitude by a council which has more to keep secret then it wants to reveal.

Westminster Council at times was and still is attempting to impose a transport policy which seems the polar opposite of what was coming from Whitehall and Central Government policy makers. How could the war on the motorist be over when Westminster Council wants to introduce stinging additional parking charges to solve a problem that the majority of people using the roads could see for themselves did not exist?

Normally the council could point to a number of resident groups to help back up the latest parking controls. But all that Rowley could scrape up were a couple of minor resident associations, one which didn’t know or understand what they were supporting, the other fringe group seemed only interested in keeping their residents parking bays to themselves, oblivious of the potential impact on the people who work in their own community. So desperate was Rowley to conjure up support for a policy he must bring in he resorted to claiming he was speaking for the ‘silent majority’ who he considered were in favour of his officer’s tax on night time parking. Not only was this majority silent, they were also invisible, as they never managed to produce an 8000 signature petition supporting his fantasy version of what was needed or wanted.

Rosemarie MacQueen

Rosemarie MacQueen

The other rotten plank in Rowley’s armoury was 200 pages of so called evidence, which a select team of stumbling council officers had spent a year building up. Perhaps in the hope it would reach such a critically large mass no mere member of the public would be brave enough to dare question such an authoritative magnum opus. But question it they did, and watched officers and councillors wriggle and squirm and try to shift focus away from any serious scrutiny.  The supporting mini ‘facts’ hand plucked by the Strategic Director for the Built Environment, Rosemarie MacQueen from her box of ‘evidence’ has been shot down quicker than a row of tin ducks at a fairground.

On 26th September 2011, MacQueen told Councillors that 1,719 free parking spaces on single yellow lines would be lost in the West End if the evening and Sunday parking charges were introduced. At that meeting instead of supporting his officers Cllr Rowley flapped his feet, waffled about the word ‘equivalent’ then ended up telling his officers they got it wrong.  Nevertheless we the public had to wait until the 23rd December 2011, for Martin Low to reveal just how spectacularly wide of the mark MacQueen was when he revealed that the figure should have been 8,463 – five times more than MacQueen’s original 1,719.

In an email to Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Mr Low says;

“This was due to an administrative error that has been confirmed from the recent work reviewing the single yellow lines and considering their conversion to double yellow lines. Buchanan SKM undertook further work after you were given that estimate earlier this year to provide a better assessment of the potential spaces available on single yellow lines and those that would be lost through conversion to double yellow lines”

By administrative error did Low mean that MacQueen tripped when she was throwing darts into the dart board for random numbers.

So here we have Westminster City Council’s Director for the Built Environment unaware she has mislaid 6744 car parking spaces available outside of enforcement hours in the West End.

This latest gaff over numbers comes after the council’s transport officers had forgotten to take into account the 100’s of free car parking spaces provided by the West End’s unprotected motorcycle parking bays.

MacQueen is passing on false information (albeit unwittingly perhaps) to both councillors and the public, and that is supposed to form part of a serious consultation? Questions still remain unanswered to the previous statistics she’s put forward as evidence, yet Councillor Rowley calls Councillor Dimoldenberg cynical.

Cllr Dimoldenberg  said; “These figures are truly shocking and highlight the huge damage that the Council’s parking charges will do to the West End economy and to the jobs of thousands of West End night time economy workers. The fact that the Council could have got these figures so very wrong must surely further undermine the Council’s flimsy case. The previous figures were not even checked before they were given to Councillors and this demonstrates the very slapdash way in which the Council has conducted the parking review. The Council should scrap its parking charge plans before it further undermines confidence in the West End and in the Council itself.”

A right to be cynical

Westminster Council want to split off the decision about the yellow lines, now claiming this was a separate issue to the parking review, sticking two fingers up to the High Court Judge Mr Justice Collins who said: “The consultation [carried out by Westminster Council] was arguably far too limited”.

Is it wrong to think cynically of Westminster Council when they tried so hard to avoid it being brought to the High Court when they threatened the appellants with a compensation claim for lost parking revenue on top of legal costs if it came to court?

Westminster Council would now like you to think that introducing 8 kilometres of double yellow lines has no connection to the Sunday and weekday evening parking debate and consultation. They insist that announcing their proposals after the majority of people were off busy preparing for Christmas was purely coincidental.

Wrapping that decision up with the benefit it will bring to the disabled would be much more convincing if they were only introducing double yellow lines in front of dropped kerbs. More convincing still if they hadn’t issued a press release two years earlier for a dropped kerb initiative that would have benefited the disabled right across the borough. A two year old initiative that had quietly faded away only to be dusted off, trimmed down and  now applied only to about half the dropped kerbs in the West End, if that.

Ask any disabled motorist what they think of the parking provisions in Westminster for them, you will find out how hard it is for them to find spaces, and why they feel the council has neglected their needs for years. We don’t see Westminster Council coming up with anything serious to really help this forgotten group.

Should we be cynical when Westminster Council officers placed an order worth £293,386 for signs, yellow paint and order making documents in November, when the fake consultation wasn’t even due to end until December?

Should we be cynical when written into the leases by Westminster City Council used to rent out its car parks to Qpark it shows the amount of rent payable to the council increases with revenue turnover, ie, more cars parking in the car parks, more money for the council?

Schedule 5 on page 71 of the Qpark leases says:

RENT, Part 1 The Annual Rent reserved by this Lease shall be the Turnover Rent calculated and payable in accordance with the provisions of Part 2 of this Schedule or the Minimum Rent which ever is the higher.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg said “Westminster Council has lost the trust of residents, businesses and their staff on this West End parking fiasco and the only way to win back that trust is to scrap the parking charge plans without further delay”

It’s time Westminster City Council came clean with the public, and stopped making one stupid mistake after another. For the sake of everyone’s sanity please could Westminster Council get someone who can add up figures.

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2 Comments

MikeJanuary 3rd, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I think it would take a miracle for Westminster City Council’s Parking Department to stop making mistake after mistake in terms of numbers / accurate data. Their track record speaks for itself; there has barely been an announcement over the last few years where the data was correct, or (in many cases) even consistent, whether it be replies to Councillors, replies in Freedom of Information requests, or to the public / Residents. How can significant decisions, which affect the lives and the pockets of businesses, Residents and visistors, alike, especially in these austere times, be trusted, in the wake of such continual unreliable information? Meanwhile, the common factor at the root of every single decision, yet the one they dare not admit, seems, time after time, to be revenue. When will the madness stop?

PeterJanuary 8th, 2012 at 6:15 pm

The madness will stop when the GLA take strategic control of Central London streets away from a load of small time hick local politicians, and standardize parking for all boroughs. Lee Rowley is a concern also, in my opinion he represents the worst of modern day politics, a Westminster City Council jobsworth who will force a damaging and extremely unpopular policy through for his own CV before being put forward as a Conservative MP somewhere and leaving Londoners to pay for his folly. Hopefully his online ‘CV’ will deter people ever voting for him again, I can’t imagine he’ll be representing Maida Vale again in any capacity again soon. In my opinion cynically giving up his borough-wide parking permit and then lecturing people in The Independent about how he likes ‘to pay for parking like everyone else’ doesn’t wash with anyone in the real world. I can’t begin to imagine the level of damage caused by Colin Barrow and Lee Rowley to the Tory vote and Boris Johnsons chances, and incredible they think that people will pay for their extended parking hours idea, madness. Everyone will take their business elsewhere, whether it’s out of town malls or home counties villages. If Lee Rowley is a experienced Management Consultant, then I’m Rudolph Hess. I think he doesn’t have a clue about PR and media as his performance to date is best described as inept, he really needs to go away and do something else with his time as he’s politically finished. Google ‘Lee Rowley Hanover’ and see him in action, quite remarkable people skills!

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