Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LONDON COUNCILS: JUST THE TICKET?

IN A PREVIOUS ARTICLE THEBIGRETORT REVEALED THAT A 'NEW' LAW HAS BEEN INTRODUCED AGAINST SELFISH PARKING - BUT DO LONDON COUNCILS KNOW IT?

Following on from our last expose many of you wrote in to tell us why you felt that you had been kept in the dark about a change in the law that came into force four years ago. It is now unlawful to block "any part of the footway or verge where it has been lowered to meet the level of the carriageway... for the purpose of assisting pedestrians to cross or assisting vehicles to enter or leave the road across the footway or verge.” In other words homeowners, frustrated by cars blocking their driveways, now have legal redress in the fight against selfish parking.

The new law currently applies to London only. An owner can demand that a car is removed even if there is no vehicle being blocked. To enforce the restriction no traffic order or signs are required and - providing the owner has requested it - a penalty charge notice can be issued… Or at least that is what the law states.

TheBigRetort exclusive reveals that despite Section 14 of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 (introduced to combat blocked driveway parking), some London councils have not been made aware of it by the organisation that was set up to guide them.

In some cases councils' are acting unlawfully and are not singing off the same law sheet.

In one instance, notably Lewisham Council - on the advice of its legal department - does not recognise the law.

In fact, there is confusion for some authorities as to where the jurisdiction for the offence lies: Councils or Police. The police often claim that it is a matter for the local authority, which is largely true, however, on the other hand, many local authorities are without guidance from choirmaster London Councils, previously known as the ALG.

TheBIGRetort highlights that many councils need to be given clear guidance on this quite important law, which concerns the whole of London and visitors to it.

So what advice has been given?

We asked London Councils... Its response leaves us in no doubt why many councils are misguided about the dropped kerb law.

In fact, when we enquired about the guidance offered Natinder Boparai, press representative of London Councils, refused to answer. A former freelance journalist, she claimed that this was due to the fact that we were "non-commissioned freelancers” - not on the payroll of a newspaper or magazine (which rather negates the description "freelance" one might think) - and that the information was - or so she claimed - 'not readily available'. She also felt that a query from a freelancer 'can eat into the time of my people', time best reserved for the 'nationals'.

Despite this reaction, the "non commissioned" report commissioned by TheBIGRetort, reveals that some councils are either flaunting or ignorant of the law, largely due to a lack of co-ordination by London Councils itself.

We asked each council: DO YOU ISSUE PCNs TO VEHICLES BLOCKING DROPPED KERB DRIVEWAYS? These were the responses.

Barking and Dagenham Council said ‘Yes.’ It issued PCNs 'twenty-four-seven'. [We marked it 8 out of 10.]

Barnet Council played us some classical music - for a while - and then wanted to know if the wheels of our investigation were 'on the pavement or on a yellow line'. It was on neither. 'No,' it said. However, when urged to confirm this it changed its response to ‘Yes’. [We place Barnet in the “not sure” section. Zero out of 10.]

Meanwhile Bexley Council informed us that a single driveway must be registered before enforcement, even though the law does not state this, and that if it is a shared driveway then an automatic penalty applies. It also operates outside business hours with a skeleton staff. [9-10.]

In north London Brent Council informed: “If a vehicle is blocking your drive, in or out, in this case we remove it.” [9-10.]

Nearby Camden Council responded, “We do enforce that… You give us the registration and address and we send an officer around (twenty-four seven). We ticket it, but if it’s a persistent offender then we also tow.” [9-10.]

At Bromley Council, where an out of hours team also operates, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’. [9-10.]

However, at the City of London Council, where curious and ancient laws apply….”I’m not sure. I’ll just check,” an AMERICAN SOUNDING WOMAN said as yet more jazz music followed her pleasant voice. She later confirmed, “If it’s a private driveway then we don’t.” [0-10.]

Croydon Council seemed more up to speed. “We do if it’s a personal driveway with a dropped kerb.” Officers ticket and remove up to 630pm, after that time they just ticket. Homeowners will need to call by 9pm as the line closes after that time. [9-10.]

Over at Ealing Council they played us lots of mood music. However, between the beat we were assured that our call was important to them and that it would be answered by the next available adviser, and following which more mood music filtered through the phone. To be fair it apologised for the delay etc - more music. Customer services…? There wasn't any. We asked for parking enforcement. “What’s it about?” We explained... but the "adviser" seemed ‘confused’. More ringing... Leave a message this time or follow these options. We hung up instead. [We placed the borough in the “don’t knows” but ”No” seems a strong category. 0-10.]

Greenwich Council insisted that it ticketed, “Only with a yellow line.” We mentioned the Act that made it an offence - since 2003! - and received the following response. “I couldn’t tell you that…you would have to go higher than me, but as far as I’m aware we can't enforce it.” [A big “No” from Greenwich then. 0-10.]

Hackney Council wanted to know if the car was on a yellow line. No. “Let me find out for you.” Following a pause we were informed that the authority can log it (on the database). “It usually takes half an hour for an enforcement officer to inspect, and then we can ticket it (or tow).” The scheme operates from 8am-8pm but there is also an out of hours team. [7-10.]

Hammersmith and Fulham Council operates a call queue system on its phone system. So be prepared to listen to a load of guff that is of no relevance to the beleaguered homeowner with a blocked drive. Simply please hold for connection, and then listen to another instruction. “We would have to send someone out to see if it’s parked illegally or not.” In fact the adviser did not know and had to ask for further instruction. A dreadful repetitive beeping noise designed to get rid us did just that. [0-10.]

Haringey Council actually removes cars from blocked driveways, but only between the hours of 7am-6pm Mon-Sat. And only if the car is parked "more than half way across the drive." [7-10.]

Harrow Council seemed far too busy to answer the phone. Normally a persistent bunch, we gave up. [0.10.]

Havering Council said “Yes”. Parking attendants operates 9-5, but it is also operated out of hours too. [9-10.]

Hillingdon Council said “It must be a single driveway, that is not shared with a neighbour, and the exact details of the vehicle must be supplied.” Response times can be up to two hours. The scheme operates from Mon-Fri, 9-5pm, with police standing in outside these hours. [9-10.]

Hounslow Council… Well... the adviser was not aware of the law, claiming that it only had authority to remove vehicles that were parked on a yellow line. "Otherwise it’s a police matter." [Which is the truth but not the whole truth, Guv.] When informed this was incorrect, he responded, “You’ll have to speak to my supervisor.” [0-10.]

Islington Council... You may be surprised to learn that for Islington to issue a ticket a car ‘has to be committing a contravention’. “If there are no road markings then (anyone) can park there. We may use our discretion and ask them to move it.” When we attempted to point out that this was incorrect the adviser seemed stunned. He did not, we concluded, know the law. [0-10.]

Kensington and Chelsea Council responded, “That is correct… a PCN is issued to the vehicle.” [9-10.]

Kingston Upon Thames Council passed us to the environmental services to the strains of the Four Seasons then on Planning, who told us we needed “Highways” and so on. Eventually we discovered that it too did not apply the law correctly. It only issued PCNs if there were yellow lines. When the Act was brought to its attention its “adviser” said that she would find out 'more'. And indeed more Four Seasons followed. And more... Finally, “we assess it” the adviser informed. We do not know if this was a reference to Vivaldi. [0-10.]

Lambeth Council said that it “depends”. Depends on what? "We can arrange to have them removed, if there is a white line pasted across it then they’ll get a penalty charge. [Incorrect... A white line is just a courtesy marking. It is not required by law. The Councils’ charge for painting these so it may be this that guides them. 0-10]

Lewisham Council was challenged on the parking issue. “If you don’t have a yellow line, you can’t enforce it. If a vehicle is blocking your drive, imprisoning you, then they (the police) must deal with it.” We pointed out to the NCP officer that it is a contravention under the Act. He responded: “Are you asking about your vehicle, or the law? [Both actually.] He seemed annoyed and officious and so we did not pursue the matter. We concluded that Lewisham Council is not only ignorant of the law but ignorant full stop. [0-10]

Unlike an adviser we spoke to at Merton Council... He knew the law - inside out. He spoke clearly and concisely, and was extremely polite and professional too, which was unusual. Amongst many things, he pointed out that an owner can “allow” a person to park adjacent to their own driveway. Where a multitude of residents use the same driveway, the council will react automatically and a penalty will be charged. "Those are the rules." (Yes Merton… but if only some of your sister boroughs knew it.) In our survey, Merton came out on top with its knowledge, response and helpful manner. [10-10.]

Newham Council was also marked higher than many of the other councils who seemed vague in their responses, rude, or just plain daft. “Yes we do, “ was Merton’s big retort. “Give us a call and we send someone around. We need a signature from someone in the house.” The scheme operates from Mon-Fri 8-4pm with a tow-away, and at weekends with just a ticket. [We gave Newham Council 9 out of ten.]

Redbridge Council put it plainly, “As long as it’s on the road and it’s blocking your driveway… it doesn’t have to have a yellow line. You have to sign a witness form.” It operates from 7am-11pm Mon-Thurs. Fri-Sat until 1am. Sunday 11pm. [9 - 10.]

In leafy Richmond upon Thames Council we were passed around the houses. “If there are no parking restrictions then I would have thought not.” The adviser was unaware of the law so we decided to probe deeper... But the Parking Shop seemed equally confused. “If it’s a controlled parking zone, and on a yellow line only.” We were passed over to the parking wardens when we became to nosy. However, the one we spoke to seemed in a bit if a fugue state and had to refer to other colleagues. Finally he told us “Yes… but only if authorised by a supervisor.” A requirement that was later dropped as we probed ever deeper. It operates between the hours 7am-10pm. [We marked it 3-10, but it would have been less had we not probed.]

Southwark Council parking shop initially seemed confused. “We don’t issue tickets for that… that’s obstruction.” [Meaning the police deal with it.] However, when we probed and the driveway was described it was decided that a ticket could be issued - 24/7. In some cases the vehicle could be towed. [3-10.]

Sutton Council informed us that the expected waiting time to have TheBigeRetort's query answered was three minutes and 52 seconds. We moved up slowly in the queue accompanied by familiar music. We were also informed that any information given would be ‘held on a database’. Due to its initial slow response we knocked a point off Sutton, but, to be fair, this belies the fact that both the call centre adviser and the NCP officer we were passed to knew the law and applied it correctly. “One full wheel has to be adjacent to the flat part of the dropped kerb,” we were informed. [8-10.]

Tower Hamlets Council was an unusual one... An adviser claimed that all of the driveways in Tower Hamlets have yellow lines, and so the law there is applied with this in mind. [We could not rank it, as it did not include the new law. Unless the adviser was wrong and all the driveways do not have yellow lines. In which case we would mark it to zero.]

Waltham Forest Council responded with a “Yes”. The council immediately logs the contravention on a screen and NCP sends a traffic warden with a tow truck 24/7. [9-10.]

Wandsworth Council, after initial confusion, passed us over to a person 'in the know'.… And he did. “In October the council had 5 calls relating to Dropped Kerb Parking.” A “27 Offence PCN” was attached and in each case the vehicles were photographed and ‘relocated’. [Probably to Lewisham where no one cares. We marked it 8-10 due to the confusion, but it would have been a ten had we been put through to the right person.]

Westminster Council seemed a bit overzealous with its application of the law - and apparently flaunts it; which for a seat-of-democratic-government borough is unforgivable. The contravention is recorded as a “62c”. "As soon as a parking attendant sees it they can issue a ticket. This is done regardless of whether a request has been made by an owner and despite there being no yellow lines." In other words, if a person blocks their own driveway they will be ticketed. It operates 24/7. [We marked Westminter 0-10 because we don't think it should ticket an owner's vehicle unless it's on a yellow line.]

Finally, a word on London Councils itself...

The organisation is funded by the boroughs councils. Lobbying forms a major part of its remit, but it also develops policy in many key areas. For instance it claims on its website “to help our member councils deliver better services, and to promote better cross-borough and pan-London working.”

Ironically, John O'Brien, its new Chief Executive, was previously director of Local Government Performance and Practice at DCLG and, formerly, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Prior to joining government, he was a director at the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government.

[A man after our own heart, he sounds like a bit of a freelancer himself. However... we mark his organisation 0-10 due to its failure to communicate with its membership, and, of course, that last bastion of truth and justice, the freelance press.]

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