Dying to park?

One of the perks of being a councillor is that one is issued with a permit that allows free use of car parks, parking meters, and residential parking areas whilst conducting one’s councillor duties. Not all councillors take advantage of this (some do not even drive) but I find it essential as my ward, covering the town centre as it does, has special parking problems.

I realise I am fortunate to have this, and prior to my election had to get by as my residents have to.

I have twice, in my time as a councillor, been made aware that health staff do not enjoy this privilege. I was told by a nurse (whose role largely involved visiting patients in their homes) that she had, on at least one occasion, had to abandon attempts to visit a patient because she could find nowhere to park. In a very real sense, a resident’s health was threatened by the parking disaster that is central Southend.

Whilst I can accept that the above example may be rare, if it was me being denied a visit because a nurse or doctor could not park I would be less than happy. Our health is our most precious resource.

Health staff who incur parking fines have to pay these themselves, even if incurred whilst carrying out their duties.

I have had recent conversations with residents who want residents parking schemes. These present a challenge, especially if a resident does not subscribe to the scheme. These residents, if visited by health care workers, will not be able to offer them visitor permits. It would indeed be an irony if those near to the hospital, for instance, were denied health care by the scheme in place there.

This must be wrong. Spending time finding a parking space, and then whatever walk is necessary once parked if this is not close to the patient’s home is a waste of precious time; it is an even bigger waste if many minutes are spent in fruitless pursuit of somewhere to park. We are creating a situation that threatens our health, inconveniences our district nurses and the like, and is angering residents.

I believe this impacts doctors, nurses, and carers, and only exempts those in emergency vehicles. With healthcare being increasingly delivered in homes this situation, which is likely quite rare at the moment, can only worsen. We must provide a way to allow these important people to serve their patients properly, and to not be out-of-pocket doing so.

Three victories

I am pleased to see that Fair havens have been persuaded by the eloquence of my argument to pursue a brownfield solution to their new home requirement. I went to see them last August where they tried to persuade me to support their plans for Belton Way in Leigh-on-Sea. I suggested then that the Ekco site ought to be considered. Then they told me it was not suitable, but I am glad to see their change of mind.

Another small victory of mine is the impending review of the Milton parking management scheme in the roads adjoining Queens Road. I have been pushing for this for almost a year and am told that it will be happening very soon. The two schemes that operate here are less than satisfactory and whilst I do not pretend that we can please everyone at least we can make some improvements.

A third victory is the review of grammar schools across the borough. I started the whole debate off, and despite what you might read elsewhere it has been my unearthing of the important data that triggered much debate, many questions, and some rancour. I am opposed to selective education, but if we must have these iniquitous institutions (the grammar schools) then they should serve the immediate community; at present this is not the case.

Surreal and stupefying, discourse in Southend-on-Sea

The continuing conversation I am having with residents in Southend-on-Sea occasionally throws up the surreal and the stupefying.

I will start with the stupefying, and I can find no better adjective for this particular piece of information. A conversation with a nurse elicited the fact that she failed to take a blood sample from someone (at their home) because she was unable to find a parking space. That stress is a by-product of the hunt to find a place to park is not news, but this is the first time I have heard of a medical procedure being abandoned because of parking policies put in place by the council (and, to be fair, by the large numbers of cars competing for too few places).

The problem, it seemed, arose from a parking scheme that allowed no visitor parking, and the neighbouring streets being full of those displaced once the scheme was implemented. (Parking schemes often ‘fix’ a problem for residents in a particular street, but the knock on effect is usually a much worse problem in neighbouring streets. Parking schemes almost always merely shift a problem rather than solve it.)

If a special permit does not exist for health workers then I will inquire about having one set up. It worries me somewhat, and I only hope that the example told to me was a one-off. The parking problem in Southend-on-Sea is bad for one’s health, if this example is anything to go by.

Conversations about insect numbers found on country walks are few and far between in my experience. I enjoyed one of these rare moments recently, and it did remind me of recent campaigns about the plight of the bumble bee. I was asked whether I counted the number of insect encounters on my last perambulation through rustic surroundings; I confessed not. I do, though, take a keen interest in the insect world and often seek inspiration from the tireless and selfless activities of ants. Socialists and social insects are a good match.

I am not sure which category (surreal or stupefying) conversations about the relevance and importance of voting are, and whilst abstention is part and parcel of the democratic process I cannot help but feel that we politicians are collectively failing the electorate. Mind you, it could be the other way around; are local politics and politicians being subject to any rigorous scrutiny if only a quarter of the electorate vote?

Jobs and disability, the cuts to benefits, policing – all hot topics at the moment, as is that old chestnut development. Pot hole conversations, pot hole conversations, and more pot hole conversations also feature.

Please don’t issue fines for encroaching in places like this

The two photographs here illustrate double yellow lines that lay between pay-and-display parking bays. Motorists that park in the bays and pay the appropriate charge are still liable to receive an enforcement notice if they encroach onto the double yellow lines (lines that, in my opinion, should not be there).

I hope to persuade the council that the issuing of fines for this is inappropriate. I see no sense in it, and I hope that I have been misinformed and that the reality is that no such fines are issued. Otherwise I would want to understand how this helps alleviate the town’s parking problems.

Two requests: Westcliff Parade and Hamlet Road

I have made two members’ requests recently. At this point I have no idea whether these will be approved and implemented or not – if nothing else funding will be an issue.

My two requests are –

Make Westcliff Parade one-way for its entire length (and consider having parking on both sides all year around).

Widen Hamlet Road by removing the pavement on the southern side, thus enabling parking on both sides.

Those who wish to pass comment, support, or object, can either email me at CllrWare-Lane@southend.gov.uk or email CherylHindle@southend.gov.uk

Both of these are part of my general drive to find solutions to the parking problems that beset my town centre ward.

Too much yellow

It is no use just moaning about something, credibility demands at least the outline of a plan.

I have knocked on many doors in Milton, almost certainly everyone that is reasonably accessible. I have spoken to many people and can say with certainty that a recurring conversation piece is parking, and just how difficult a time residents with cars have. Actually, not just those with cars, those who have visitors who have cars too.

There is no simple solution, and likely none at all that pleases everyone, but I really believe progress can be made.

The problem, as I have seen and as has been described to me, is that the number of parking spaces in the ward is limited, that parking is expensive, and that enforcement is not always seen to be fair.

This effect is a town centre in decline, owing to too few visitors. Those who do brave the traffic are often clock-watching so as to avoid penalty. The effect is also stress, misery and expense for residents.

So, what can we do?

Anna Waite, of all people, made the suggestion about reducing car park charges to £1 for three hours. I support this idea.

Look at the number of yellow lines. There are some that can be removed, and every bit removed helps.

Investigate having a new multi-storey car park built.

It might be possible to have more one-way streets.

Encourage our traffic enforcement officers to show some initiative – the letter of the Law should not override common sense.

I would also have a moratorium on residents parking. Whilst this is necessary in some streets, it often only moves a problem rather than solving it.

Civility, fly-tipping, phone masts – a morning of irritation

“Labour equals poverty” I was rather rudely informed this morning. This followed on from “Labour bankrupted the country”. That neither statement is true is one thing, to utter these sorts of comments and then walk off when I questioned the evidence for this is incivility. The gentleman concerned may have believed he had struck a blow against Labour activism this morning, I rather think it was a tick in the box for stupidity.

I accept that many will hold views that are contrary to mine, I also expect gentlemen to act gentlemanly. The gentleman this morning may have had nice diction but he behaved like a fearful oik.

Perhaps I am turning into a grump but I am increasingly irritated by bad behaviour. My upbringing would not allow me to utter anything reproachful, and this made me annoyed with myself.

Parking may be an insoluble issue in Milton, I imagine that whatever is put in place by way of a solution will leave someone dissatisfied. Whilst we can ease the pain for motorists, the local car population is likely to grow and places to park will become more and more difficult to find. I am coming to the conclusion that a number of multi-storey car-parks is the only answer.

Flipping fly-tipping

What is solvable is fly-tipping. There is no need to fly-tip – Southend is served by two waste disposal sites. Those signs stating that the perpetrators of this anti-social deed will suffer a large fine seem like an empty threat to me. Has anyone been caught? There are some places where fly-tipping is a repeat occurrence, and monitoring in these days of cheap and available technology should not be too difficult. I wonder, as well, whether the occasional council paid for skip would help. The modest cost would be more than offset by the improvement environment (and I presume that clearing fly-tipped materials is not achieved without cost).

I confess to not knowing whether living near a phone mast is bad for one’s health – it seems that conflicting advice and evidence abound. I do know that I am not prepared to gamble with my health and would not choose to live near one. I spotted a rather large installation in amongst housing in Milton this morning. The neighbours may be aware and happy for it to be there, then again they may have had no choice. If elected I intend to be vigilant as regards to any application for the construction of phone masts. I do not pre-empt or pre-judge any such application, but I will be seeking guarantees before I am prepared to approve. In the meantime here is an interesting resource: Powerwatch

Southchurch Rovers 15 – 1 Cannons

I was later than I would have liked in arriving for my Southend Sunday Football League game yesterday. Belfairs Central, the venue for yesterday’s Division Four encounter, is one of the grounds closest to my home, but problems parking meant I arrived only twenty minutes prior to kick off.

It would be harsh of me to blame yesterday’s parking problems entirely on the council, but it was a reminder of how car-unfriendly Southend is becoming, even on a Sunday. After a couple of laps of the car park, and attempts to find nearby parking, I found a space some half a mile from the ground. It is true that there seems to be fewer and fewer spaces nowadays and some poor decisions by the local administration have made matters worse.

Who was it that dreamt up the idea of residents-only parking near Southend Hospital? Aside from the fact that many homes in that area have off-street parking, anyone choosing to live near a hospital must realise that such an establishment would have large numbers of visitors. It is almost as if the council are trying to dissuade friends and relatives from visiting the sick, dying, or newly-born. Whilst residents-only parking is justifiable in some areas, it must be a last resort. The streets near the hospital now have less available spots for cars and I can barely imagine the thinking that facilitated fewer parking places in an area where more cars than ever are visiting.

Parking problems in one area do have a ripple-out effect as motorists seek to park further and further from their destination.

The one-sided nature of yesterday’s game was as a result of Cannons fielding a short team – only eight players. The venue should be a joy to visit, being adjacent to my favourite part of town, but a sloping and uneven pitch with third-world changing facilities means that this is not amongst my favourite local football venues.

What is wrong with free parking for councillors on council business?

I see the arch narcissist, Thorpe resident Martin Terry, is up to it again with his faux indignation over councillors getting free parking when engaged on council business.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not shy when it comes to pointing out double-standards amongst our councillors, and it is right that their claims are queried. To suggest that they not be allowed free parking at all is a suggestion that can only be described as daft.

First, let me say that I have no self-interest – I am not a councillor. Two of Labour’s four councillors in Southend do not drive, and so free parking does not apply. I have no idea what councillors McMahon and Norman do, but since their wards are in the centre of town I can imagine that without free parking their roles as representatives of the people would be all the more difficult.

Terry’s assertion that this should be covered by councillor allowances ignores two obvious facts. First is that this discriminates against those councillors who represent areas where parking is at a premium. (No hint of self-interest here for Terry, who represents the car-park free ward of Westborough.) Second, giving free parking rather than having it accounted for as part of an allowance means that it is based on use. Those looking at value-for-money from our councillors should encourage more use-based distribution of largesse.

Councillors should be out and about, amongst their voters, finding out what they want and where they can be helped. That this can be done at zero cost to the tax-payer (whereas any increase in allowances is paid for by us) should make this a no-brainer.

Since Martin Terry will forever be carping from the sidelines I trust his silly ideas will come to nothing.

A dozen extraordinary circumstances in Portland Avenue

My first Freedom Of Information Act request was made a week or so ago.  I was inspired by a doorstep conversation to inquire about the issuing of parking tickets in Portland Avenue.

Here are the numbers:

Jan 2011 6
Feb 2011 11
Mar 2011 6
Apr 2011 4
May 2011 1
Jul 2011 2
Sep 2011 21
Oct 2011 23
Nov 2011 12
Total 86

November’s figures are obviously incomplete, and it is curious how the numbers are very small near election time, surely just a coincidence.

Sixteen tickets were cancelled or written-off. Twelve of these were cancelled owing to extraordinary circumstances. I cannot imagine it has anything to do with this – https://warelane.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/can-jonathan-garston-assure-me-that-he-condemns-voter-bribery/

As a believer in equality I hope that ‘extraordinary circumstances’ apply across the borough, not just to the recipients of foolish promises.