On Monday of this week I attended the council’s “Overview and Scrutiny” committee. For those unfamiliar with the internal workings of the council this is a cross-party group of 15 elected councillors. Our task is to look closely at the implementation and impact of the practical things the council is doing and the policy decisions that the cabinet (the Mayor’s top team) are making. We can applaud and encourage good practice, and also challenge in areas where we feel improvement is needed.
The most lively part of the meeting was the agenda item to do with the council’s new borough-wide Parking Strategy. This is no surprise, any councillor anywhere in the country will probably tell you that parking is a hot potato issue for residents. It certainly is here in North Shields where many local streets and much of our town centre date back to a time when far fewer cars were on the roads. Managing that demand is an enormous challenge, which is why it’s so important to get the Parking Strategy right.
At this point I should probably throw in a couple of extra points of context: The Parking Strategy isn’t the only way the council manages parking demand. For example, the decision to invest in a new Transport Hub in North Shields town centre is intended to make it easier for people to get in and out using buses and the metro. And the new investment in ‘Active Travel’ infrastructure will make it safer and more straightforward to walk or cycle between local destinations.
All of us who serve as your local councillors attended consultations on the new strategy earlier in the year. At these events, and in associated surveys, I passed on comments that local residents had made to me. In that sense Monday’s meeting was an important opportunity to check in on whether or not we had been listened to. I was pleased to see that a large number of our points had made it into the draft.
So, what’s changing in the updated Parking strategy? Here are some changes that caught my eye:
- Important changes to the criteria for disabled bays, allowing officers more discretion in cases where applicants have chosen not to claim certain state benefits (which were previously used as evidence of disability)
- Tie-ins with related strategies, such as Carbon Net Zero and the Zero Emission Vehicles strategy.
- An update to the range and type of parking permits available
- Changes to the criteria around resident parking schemes, making the level of residents support for the scheme the number 1 criteria.
- Increased use of digital technologies to make it easier to interact with the council on parking matters, especially around requests for new parking schemes.
- More frequent assessments of parking restriction requests, leading to quicker decisions about whether or not new schemes will be implemented.
The councillors present, myself included, recognised that there are a number of issues that remain unresolved. We raised about a dozen between us, including 3 or 4 from myself. I was concerned that:
- No number has been put on the frequency of parking assessment decisions. It is currently once a year. In future will it be twice? Three times? Four? We await an answer.
- The strategy is a bit fuzzy on ‘commercial demand’ with respect to residential parking restrictions. There may be advantages to having a bit of short stay daytime flexibility in restricted residential streets. We need some more detail on when and how this can be used to better manage visitor demand.
- I disputed the statement in the strategy says there is enough parking provision in the town centre. This led to an interesting debate about the cost of parking, especially at the Beacon Centre. As most of us know, every day it sits mostly empty because it is quite expensive. I discovered that these empty spaces are counted as “surplus parking” leading to the defacto conclusion that the town has enough parking provision. I suggested this assumption needed reconsidering.
All in all, I think we need to see the new Parking Strategy as introducing a range of modest improvements. I emphasise the word “improvement” because it’s a better fit than solutions. To actually solve the parking issues we have locally my guess is we’d need to see at least a 25% reduction in the number of cars on the road. It’s interesting to think what would need to change in our travel habits to make that sort of revolution possible.
Finally, as a citizen it is your right to view the documents associated with scrutiny meetings. You can access the documents from this meeting by clicking here.
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