Herne Hill covers a largish area, and its human and economic geography is charmingly varied: one of the reasons we love it, in fact. On top of that, our community is divided between two large London boroughs – Southwark and Lambeth. In practice, this doesn’t normally make a great deal of difference to our lives.
But there is one exception: parking.
Which is an issue that can cause fervent dissent between neighbours, let alone between streets.
For the last two years or more, residents in that part of Herne Hill bounded approximately by Herne Hill itself, Milkwood Road and Poplar Walk have been bogged down in a conversation (others may use a more vibrant word) with Lambeth Council and with each other on the proposed extension of a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) into these residential streets.
In reading what follows, bear in mind, please, Lambeth’s declared purpose for CPZs: “the main aim of the CPZ is to discourage commuter and long stay parking by people from outside the area”. And note the word “area”: it doesn’t say “street”.
The current crisis follows the introduction, some years ago, of a CPZ alongside Ruskin Park which at a stroke, and for no apparent benefit, prevented all-day parking on both sides of Ferndene Road – not just the sides with houses, who had presumably requested it, but even on the other side alongside the park railings where there are no houses. The consequence was the pointless removal of many dozens of all-day parking spaces and the predictable displacement of some of these cars more deeply into the neighbouring residential streets.
“Street” versus “Area”
There have been several further rounds of consultation, with streets voting on whether they wanted to be included in or excluded from a wider CPZ. Many residents believe that these consultations were fundamentally flawed from the start, because they did not make it clear that the Council was prepared to introduce a CPZ on a street-by-street basis (according to the voting sentiment of each street) rather than as a coherent area.
The Council would challenge this view: there was indeed a sneaky hint of this policy in one of the questions on the voting paper – but it was only a hint. It may also have been spelled out at one of those Council-chaired public meetings: but most residents didn’t attend that, as only ‘stakeholders’ were invited.
Upshot, and omitting much tedious detail: we are now, in mid-October, in an extraordinary – in fact a crisis – situation which would be comical if it were not hugely stressful for many residents.
The creeping Zone
Residents of streets such as Rollscourt Avenue and Kestrel Avenue, sick to death of their streets being colonised by commuters, voted to have a CPZ. Behold, they have got one last month (more or less – see comment below). At a stroke, parking there has become blissfully easy, since the out-of-area parkers have transferred their patronage to neighbouring streets outside the new Zone.
So what with the commuters, plus some of the residents of these streets now inside the Zone who don’t want to buy a permit, parking has migrated to Gubyon Avenue and Fawnbrake Avenue. On top of that, casual visitors to the neighbourhood, and no doubt people who work in or visit the doctors’/dentists’ surgeries and schools nearby, are equally fighting for parking spaces in the “free” streets (let us call it the ‘non-Zone’). Milkwood Road residents park in the non-Zone too, as their road is full and also prone to car vandals. Within a year, to top it all, the new Peabody housing block on Milkwood Road will be finished and inhabited: no parking is being provided for their residents, so where will they go? (Lambeth offers no answer except to point to our splendid public transport links and the bicycle racks.)
We have a classic displacement effect, which will only get worse when the extended Zone is actually enforced. Now residents of the excluded streets are scared to use their cars lest, when they return, their spaces have been snapped up by prowling visitors. There are many stories of commuters driving round and round in the hope of seeing a resident pull away. There are stories of elderly people who can’t visit their families because they can’t park; residents who can’t now visit their health clubs, fetch children from school or visit the supermarket; mothers with toddlers, and families with big loads of shopping or elderly parents, suffering stress, rage and of course enormous time wasted, trying to find a parking spot within reach of their home.
Where else can they go, these residents, commuters and visitors? There are almost no other streets in this part of Herne Hill – or in fact, in any part of Herne Hill now – where you can park without paying, at least between 12 noon and 2 PM. And the long-established CPZ in Southwark may also be pushing visiting cars and vans over the border.
A policy which was supposedly intended to manage parking has in practice created anarchy.
What happens next?
Under pressure from many residents, the Council (officers and Councillors) have conceded that they would be willing to re-consult the excluded streets. Consultation documents are to be sent to residents by 7th November and questionnaires will have to be returned by 21st November. If, on that basis, the Council detect a move in favour of inclusion, they could possibly extend the Zone to the excluded streets next May. They do not seem able to move much faster than that.
But this in turn invites another question: what if one or two streets (Gubyon Avenue, for example) voted to be included, but a third (e.g. Fawnbrake Avenue) still voted to stay outside? Obviously if that happens all the incoming visitors/commuters/tradespeople/Peabody traffic, along with our neighbours who don’t want to buy an annual permit if they can park for free somewhere nearby, would displace their cars onto that one remaining “free” street and the parking there would turn into a brutal fight for lebensraum.
This emphasizes the folly of the council’s policy of proceeding on a street by street basis, and shifting blame on to residents with a ‘local democracy’ excuse. A CPZ only really works when an orderly, coherent Zone (or ‘area’, to use Lambeth’s own word) is created, so that the opportunities and financial incentives for displacement parking disappear. Even better would be a system of local government that encouraged neighbouring Councils to coordinate their parking policies in adjacent areas so the current distortion is avoided. Too much to expect, alas.
Meanwhile, the introduction of the CPZ, even in those streets where lines been painted and signs erected, has been farcical. Originally residents were told it would start on 30 September, and many of those who wanted to buy permits did so in time. The traffic wardens went around sticking tickets on cars without permits.
But it soon transpired – indeed it was obvious to many residents – that the zone could not really start working until the ticket machines were installed, allowing visitors to pay during the mandatory 12 noon – 2 PM period. Alas, however, there were no ticket machines. At the time of writing, there still aren’t. Lambeth haven’t got any.
In consequence the council has had to admit that the CPZ will now be inaugurated on 4th November and that those people who bought permits can have their validity extended by a month – though not everyone has been told this yet. So confusion and chaos reigns.
The level of distress – indeed, rage – felt by residents whose lives have been damaged by this fiasco is difficult to describe.
What makes it worse is that the bureaucratic procedures of the Council (introduced on the basis of a deeply flawed and unrealistic principle but no doubt from the best of motives) stand in the way of any early remedy to the chaos that the Council’s own procedures have created – when they had so many warnings that this would be precisely the consequence of their processes.
Oh fortunate Southwark!
Across the Hill, Southwark residents have lived with a workable CPZ for some years now. Southwark explains that it enforces CPZs “… predominantly to give priority of parking to local residents and to short-stay visitors to shops and businesses”(cue bitter laughter on Gubyon Avenue). Southwark also extorts less than Lambeth: on the south side of Herne Hill an annual permit costs £125; in Lambeth it all depends on the CO2 rating of your car, but a typical Band 3 car costs £136 per annum.
Southwark residents will no doubt be amazed to learn of the farce that is Lambeth, our “Cooperative Council”. Some of us may want to congratulate them on their choice of borough.
Take it further?
Sign the petition. Over 100 people have signed so far!
Post a comment on the Herne Hill Forum thread.
Protest about this fiasco to your local Councillor and Member of Parliament:
Ms Tessa Jowell MP firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Jim Dickson JDickson@lambeth.gov.uk