The Hague, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, and an Award of a Lifetime


The Hague, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, and an Award of a Lifetime

This month I have seen a few things that made me wonder if I had woken up in an alternate universe. I mean, people do silly things all the time, but these have been super plus extra weird. 

First, let’s go over to my daughter’s adopted country, the Netherlands, or the Hague to be exact. The Hague is the administrative center of the country. Government, the Royal Palace, some other stuff, and the administrative area stretch as far as the North Sea holiday beaches. Now, some locals have been complaining that visitors (to tourist attractions) are making it difficult to park. So, the city fathers have introduced a flat parking charge of 50€ for visitors. This applies whether a car is parked for ten minutes or all day; transgressors are booted and towed. 

The Netherlands is, of course, one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to mass/sustainable transit. Everything is integrated with a single fares system which is heavily subsidized. In addition, just about everywhere, the bicycle is king with bicycle priority on most of the road network except for the high-speed, long-distance motorways, although the cycle network parallels these routes. So good is the cycle network that the aforementioned daughter, with child and husband, regularly makes the 10-mile journey to the beach this way, rather than drive. The reason that I am saying all this is because it means that a pretty large proportion of the tourists are already using other modes.

But no, the rationale is to encourage visitors to leave their cars behind, freeing up the space for local residents and businesses, who conveniently will be given permits, so they don’t have to pay. Not unsurprisingly, local businesses whose customers are being targeted are less enthusiastic. 

To quote one: “This will not make business any easier. A lot of buildings here are empty, and if you set a minimum of €50 to get to a shop…” However, I think that the strongest clue as to the likely outcome can be judged by the words of the council spokesman Jurriaan Esser, who said that the pilot was starting in a selection of streets so that the “collateral damage” could be measured before considering whether to extend it. If the collateral damage is that businesses dependent on tourists go bust, I wonder who pays? 

The second story is nearer to home. Ashford in Surrey is on the edge of London and the local council has just announced that the main car park, which has been closed for some time, is going to be demolished, leaving the shopping center with virtually no parking.

I would guess the facility dates from the 70s. It’s of its time but unusually seems to be clear span. Not wonderful, not going to win any prizes, but does the job. Now here’s the thing that surprised me. The car park is being demolished not because of any underlying structural issues, but because of vandalism and anti-social behavior. 

I have been in this business for over 50 years and this is a first to me. Vandalism and crime are endemic in some car parks, and I have heard of garages being closed until something dramatic happens to deal with the problem. This was the motivation that created the UK’s very successful Safer Parking Scheme which has created a methodology which has driven crime away from many of our car parks. It includes things like CCTV, staffing, up to and including patrol dogs, and better lighting. Here the council, and even the local police seem to have given up and closed the facility after “shocking” vandalism and antisocial behavior, where youths were “setting fires” and letting off “missiles” in the car park. Of course, the council now owns a valuable development site right in the middle of the high street, but I am sure that was not a factor in the decision-making process. Probably.

The third story that caught my attention relates to Buckinghamshire Council, which ticketed 100 percent of the legally parked drivers in one of their High Wycombe sites. A great deal of puzzlement was the result as law-abiding citizens returned to find the dreaded yellow envelope on their cars. Widespread confusion quickly spread over both the local and national media before the council finally came clean. 

The council had, quite properly, banned parking in a small area of the car park so that they could install some EV charging points. Trouble was, somewhere between the office and the people on the ground the words “small area” got missed so, Along came the ticket writers and KAPOW! ZAP! BLAT! Yippee, we got them all! Oh, um, oops. 

The council have of course apologized and announced that all the citations will be cancelled. But will they, I wonder? Councils in the UK have a long and wholly disreputable tradition of not repaying paid tickets even when it is proven that the original action had no legal basis. Statements like “well they wouldn’t have paid it if they hadn’t known that they had done wrong” and “it would be administratively too complex to refund” are common and total poppycock. Hopefully, this time the council will do better.

I attended the launch party for this year’s British Parking Awards the other day. The awards proper, are in September. The launch party was on a Thames pleasure boat, sailing down from Westminster to Greenwich, and back again, with just the odd glass of vino and champers, with just a few nibbles to soak up the likker. 

London from the river is impressive and I, with a few old friends, spent the time trying to identify the many historic building both ancient and modern that we passed. These ranged from the 1,000-year-old Tower of London through Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and Royal Naval College of some 500 years ago, up to the 21st century renaissance of the City of London. It was a fun evening and I got a Lifetime Achievement award, which was nice.

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest, Parking Tales from Big Ben
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