Councillors have expressed frustration with a lack of parking enforcement in South Cambridgeshire.
A number of councillors described a lack of deterrence and complained of “misery” for some residents, especially those close to the boundary with the city, when the issue was discussed at a session of the full council on Thursday (September 24).
The Conservative opposition group, which brought a motion to take action on the issue, said that of the 326 local authority areas in England, South Cambridgeshire District Council is one of just 13 that does not have civil parking enforcement.
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The current arrangement is for the police to enforce parking restrictions, but some councillors questioned the police’s commitment to the task.
Liberal Democrat councillor Brian Milnes said: “The police have continued to refuse to engage in parking enforcement when it’s their statutory responsibility.”
Conservative councillor Richard Williams, who brought the motion, said: “The police do what they can but they have many other calls on their time, and enforcement is necessarily sporadic and that results in relatively little deterrence.”
South Cambs ‘significant outlier’
Councillors heard that one barrier to introducing a civil parking enforcement scheme in the past has been a national requirement for them to be self-funding, which can be more difficult in rural areas.
Cllr Williams said: “I think the impetus for looking at this now is that the landscape for civil parking enforcement itself is changing in terms of potential new expansion of powers, and the district itself is changing.”
He said relying solely on the police for parking enforcement makes South Cambridgeshire a “significant outlier”.
He said: “Civil parking enforcement, with councils taking responsibility for introducing traffic wardens, is a way to bring extra resources to this issue with dedicated enforcement officers.”
He said civil parking enforcement has been in place in Cambridge since 2004, and the city is expanding.
“The differential enforcement that that gives rise to is a particular problem for the areas in our district that are immediately adjacent to the city,” he said, adding the current model is not sustainable.
He said he recognised the council has looked at the issue “from time to time” but said “no detailed feasibility study” has been undertaken since 2006. He said now is a good time to carry out further detailed work to assess the financial viability of implementing a civil parking enforcement scheme.
The motion called for councillors to recognise “that illegal parking is a serious problem for many communities in our district”.
The motion originally read: “The council commits to tackling this problem and will explore the options available to us.”
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‘It’s quite intolerable’
But a Liberal Democrat amendment, accepted by the Conservatives, changed it to read that the council commits “to continuing to explore the options”.
Liberal Democrat Nick Sample said a report on the issue was prepared last year. “A lot of work has gone into trying to move forwards to find a solution to the issues that our area experiences in parking. And many councillors continue to work at that,” he said.
Cllr Milnes said “substantive” work had been carried out on the issue, and said “we have got to put a financial model together that will pay for any enforcement activities that we do in the district”.
Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Hunt said: “In the denser parts of our ward, such as Orchard Park, it’s quite intolerable, and everyone struggles to get the police to act. I’m sure the police are very short-handed and that’s why, but nevertheless, as more buildings and more dwellings are added in that area it’s only going to get worse and we are going to get overspill parking.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Anna Bradnam said: “In the village of Milton we already find we have parking for people who are quite happy to walk 20 minutes to the Cambridge Science Park because it’s easier to park in Milton.”
The motion was passed with all but one councillor in favour. Labour councillor Nigel Cathcart abstained.
Cllr Cathcart said the issue has been “discussed several times” and warned “this is not just an enforcement issue, it’s a design issue. It’s different in every village. We need to be careful.”
He said some estates in the area were “designed in the eras when no one had a car, and now you can actually find houses where there are eight cars in a single household”.
He said with civil enforcement parking “you do often get tensions between households, and you get tensions between parking enforcement officers and residents.
“So I think there’s a deeper problem than enforcement, and I think we came to that conclusion 20 years ago. There’s no harm in actually looking at it again, but I feel we need to tread fairly carefully, and look at all the issues, look at the whole thing in the round, because otherwise we will actually just create a rod for our own backs.”
Updated government guidance on civil parking enforcement from June this year says: “Previous guidance said that local authority parking enforcement should be self-financing as soon as practicable. This is still a sensible aim, but compliant applications for civil parking enforcement will be granted without the scheme being self-financing.
“But authorities will need to bear in mind that if their scheme is not self-financing, then they need to be certain that they can afford to pay for it from within existing funding. The Secretary of State will not expect either national or local taxpayers to meet any deficit.”