I was first elected to the old Avon council twenty years ago this week. My ward of Cabot covered the city centre, Kingsdown and much of Cotham and Clifton. For the next six years I spent most of my time trying to minimise the impact of the car on my local residents. They suffered more than any other part of the city from commuters using their streets as a giant free parking lot and “rat running” at speed.
I managed to achieve several road closures and one way streets, transforming Kingsdown in particular. But a residents parking scheme remained elusive. Finally, at the end of 2010 a scheme was introduced and it is very popular. Ironically, it came in just as I moved from Kingsdown to a road in St Andrews that has its own appalling traffic problems.
So I’m pleased that Mayor Ferguson has decided to roll out resident parking zones across most of the Bristol West constituency. But my constituency is not some homogenous mass of streets, suitable for a one size fits all scheme. Some areas such as St Pauls and the Dings still suffer from commuter parking. Other areas such as Clifton or the streets adjacent to Gloucester Road are a complex ecosystem of local residents and independent businesses dependent on short term parking. Some areas have a problem during the day, some in the evening.
The Mayor will need to take on board the concerns of residents about zone boundaries, times of operation and permit prices. He will also have to accept that some areas don’t have a problem that needs to be solved, even allowing for any displacement by a nearby parking scheme. It is hard for me to see the need for a scheme in many parts of Bishopston or St Werburghs.
The announcement of the residents parking scheme is the first major policy decision by the new Mayor that will directly affects tens of thousands of people. It is also the first test of how the Mayor works in harmony with local ward councillors, or for that matter a constituency MP. It’s a real opportunity for the Mayor to take a strategic decision but for the on the ground implementation to be influenced by local councillors applying their street by street knowledge to the task. If the Mayor decides to press ahead with a blanket imposition of the scheme then he will have operated within the limits of his powers but crossed the boundary of common sense.
While canvassing for the local elections in recent weeks I have stressed the need for local community champions, working with but also acting as a check on the power of our new Mayor. Residents parking will show whether the new model of local government can work.
NOTE – this article was written for the Bristol Post, published on 2 May 2013