Skip to main content

Pavement Parking

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 7 March 2024

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Mohindra.)

I rarely have the chance of speaking two times on one day in quick succession.

I am glad to have secured this debate, but I am sad that we are having to revisit the topic. My first Adjournment debate in this House on 6 June 2018 was on pavement parking. I am sorry that nearly six years on, we are still only talking about preventing it. I am by no means the only person to have raised this subject, as the Minister knows. Since that debate, we have had promises to resolve the problem, a few Government announcements and even a consultation three years ago—but still no Government response, much less any action.

Guide Dogs set out well what has been happening. It pointed out that it has supported private Member’s Bills in the House of Commons in 2014 and 2015, which contributed to the Department for Transport decision to commission research on pavement parking. The Department subsequently held a consultation on managing pavement parking between 31 August and 22 November 2020, exploring three options: first, to improve the traffic regulation order process by which local authorities can already prohibit pavement parking; secondly, a legislative change to allow local authorities civil parking enforcement powers to enforce against unnecessary restriction of the pavement; and, thirdly, a legislative change to introduce a London-style pavement parking prohibition throughout England. Guide Dogs supported all three, but it strongly emphasises the third option, to introduce a law across the rest of England.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. In Manchester, pavement parking continues to prevent people from participating in everyday life, especially vulnerable and disabled people. Back in May 2023, I petitioned Parliament to outlaw pavement parking across the country. That had huge support from my constituents and local authorities, but the Government have done nothing about it. Does she share my concern that the Government continue to show their contempt for the people of Britain by failing to enforce simple measures that would greatly benefit the public?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

The argument for a pavement parking ban needs little restatement. All the organisations that have contacted me since I secured this debate are largely in agreement. They say that pavement parking puts pedestrians in danger, including disabled and older people, as well as parents with children, and that the Government must take action. Locally, I know, there are major issues with the school run for parents and children negotiating parked cars. From my constituents who raised this issue, I know it is clearly one that is deeply felt. I am sure that they are not alone in that in Blaydon. Residents regularly tell me about the problems pavement parking causes outside the little shops in Winlaton, along the high street in Birtley or even just up from my home along the main road in Ryton.

Guide Dogs UK has done a lot of work on this issue because pavement-parked vehicles pose a particular risk to people with sight loss, blocking their routes, creating trip hazards and forcing them to walk on to roads full of traffic which they cannot see. Research by Guide Dogs has found that virtually all people with sight loss have been forced to walk in the road due to pavement-parked vehicles. Some 80% of respondents said that pavement parking affects them weekly, while one in five said that they had been injured as a result of it. A third of people with sight loss said that they are less willing to go out alone just in case they come up against vehicles blocking their path. It is deeply unjust that people with sight loss should have their everyday lives disrupted because of this issue.

In my last Adjournment debate, I talked about my experience of meeting Margaret and Laurel, constituents of mine who are both visually impaired, and taking a walk with them blindfolded, or with restrictive glasses, on my local street. At the time, they told me that they had lost confidence in going out alone, and that their independence was at risk because of the number of vehicles parked on the path. I had the chance to catch up with Laurel ahead of this debate, and I am sad to say that little has changed for her in the past six years. She shared with me the following message:

“Where I live, all the houses are built in the 1950s and many don’t have their own drive. As a result, everyone parks their cars on the pavement. You can’t get past them, and often Tasha, my Guide Dog, and I have to walk in the road. It’s not just the one car we have to get past—I frequently have to go in the road to get past a few of them, which is so frightening as you can’t hear bikes or quieter cars. If I try to get past without going on the road, I find that I often hit my head on the wing mirrors, which is unnerving in itself.

I want to be independent and use the pavement without having to get help, but there are so many cars about that it’s getting harder all the time. I recently went to catch the bus but found there were cars parked each side of the bus stop pole, stopping me from waiting there, and preventing the bus from pulling up. I had to step out into the road to get to the door of the bus, which was nerve racking. You don’t know what might be coming towards you and you are putting yourself and your guide dog in danger. Because I’d had to step down into the road, the step onto the bus wasn’t at the height I’m used to, and I missed it and fell, really hurting myself. The driver didn’t help and just said he’d report the problem.

On another occasion when I was coming home, the bus got to my stop and struggled pulling into the curb because of the cars. The driver actually stopped right in front of the pole so that it was right in front of the doors when they opened. If I’d got out, I’d have walked straight into it but fortunately, my son was with me on that occasion, and he grabbed hold of me to stop me.

I feel really angry because people parking on the pavements just don’t realise what problems they cause Tasha and I when we’re out, and I want someone to stop this happening.”

The focus of my debate is the problems that we are having in my Blaydon constituency, which, as the Minister knows—it is next to his constituency—is in the north-east. I note that the north-east deeper devolution deal, which was published yesterday, contains a section that addresses pavement parking. The North East Mayoral Combined Authority’s stated intention to develop a consistent approach to enforcement is laudable, and I know that my local authority, Gateshead Council, has previously looked at what it can do to help with the problem, but identifying streets and issuing traffic regulation orders is a lengthy, impractical and costly process, and local authority civil enforcement officers have few powers where there are no lines or signs present. That is why so many organisations and local authorities have called for a system that allows for blanket prohibition, such as the one that currently operates in London, with the potential to allow for exceptions where local geographies or street designs make them necessary.

The national consultation was set up to consider what the Government could do to support councils to take action on this issue. I gently remind the Minister that that consultation took place in 2020, and it stated that a summary of responses would be published within three months of its closing. It has now been 1,285 days since the consultation closed, but we are without a substantive update. That is without considering the dawdling that took place prior to the consultation, which I understand the Government had initially planned for early 2017, or—to look even further back—the time that has elapsed since the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) introduced a private Member’s Bill on this issue in 2015.

In a debate in the House of Lords only a few weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Davies of Gower, told that House:

“Yes, it is time and I am hopeful that in the not-too-distant future we will come out with a report on this.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 February 2024; Vol. 836, c. 607.]

I can understand that the 15,000 responses that I believe were submitted need to be looked at, and that considering them takes some time, but from hearing those words from Lord Davies, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Government were just running a tad over the deadline. We are now more than three years on, and it is disappointing that the Government cannot promise us anything better than vague hopes for a response.

I thank my hon. Friend for being generous in giving way. A recent Sustrans report found that 49% of people in Greater Manchester wish to walk or use their wheelchair more, and 40% want to cycle more. Does she agree that if the Government banned pavement parking nationally, that would improve the accessibility of our footways, make our streets safer, and encourage people to choose active travel alternatives to cars?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are all looking to develop active transport policies, and making it easier for people to walk on pavements and use public transport safely is a real issue, so I very much welcome that report.

As I have said, 15,000 responses might be a lot of paperwork to get through, but they also suggest a high level of public engagement and interest in this issue. The Government owe it to disabled people, as well as the wider public, to ensure that they complete this process. As such, I ask the Minister whether the Department for Transport will commit today to urgently publish the response to the consultation on managing pavement parking, and to set out a timetable for introducing legislation.

Everyone should feel safe and confident when using pavements in their local area, but so many people, including many families walking to school, are suffering. People like my constituents Laurel and Margaret are suffering from social isolation and a loss of independence due to the lack of action on this issue. People with disabilities must not be an afterthought, so I hope that the Government will stop taking them for a ride, crack on and address their concerns.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who is my constituency neighbour, on securing this Adjournment debate on what is genuinely a very important issue—I do not diminish it in any way whatsoever. I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) has also previously raised this matter in the House. I have had my brief for about 100 days, and have taken the trouble to read transcripts of the previous debates.

I am also acutely conscious that a vast amount of evidence has been provided by a large number of organisations. Like the hon. Lady, I have met Guide Dogs UK, and I know that this is a very serious issue that affects individuals up and down the country in a genuine and serious way, including people who are disabled, those who have children, those with prams and buggies, those who are walking their dog and those who are engaging in active travel, for which I am also the Minister. We have increased the budget for encouraging active travel by 10, and we are trying to persuade people to get behind it, so I do not want to diminish the importance of this issue in any way. I acknowledge that it is very serious.

As the hon. Member for Blaydon knows and has previously outlined, there has been a total ban on pavement parking in London since 1974. However, to be fair, successive Governments of different political persuasions have decided since 1974 that there should not be a nationwide ban. That is partly because London is clearly a different environment from other parts of the country, particularly in terms of rurality. However, she will also be aware—I am repeating things that both she and the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton know—that there are traffic regulation orders, as well as prescribed traffic signs and bay markings.

To give some context, the Transport Select Committee’s report in September 2019 was highly detailed and took huge amounts of evidence, and to a certain extent triggered the Government to respond. That Committee sought reform of the TRO process, a change in the legislation governing the enforceable offences of obstructive pavement parking—as I will deal with later, that legislation is not simple by any stretch of the imagination—and consideration of a nationwide ban in some shape or form.

As a result, and following consideration and, rightly, extensive debate in the House on an ongoing basis, there was the consultation. As the hon. Member for Blaydon says, 15,000 people responding to a Government consultation is probably more than any other that I am aware of—certainly in the transport space. When I was the Employment Minister, I was not aware of such detailed consultations. Clearly, there are some that do generate more than that, but this was not just on the three main points, because bear in mind that there were 15,000 responses on 15 different issues. That produced, as she rightly outlined, thousands of pieces of individual feedback, all of which need to be read and analysed. An awful lot of different Departments need to consider different matters, and local authorities are utterly key to that, as is the Department for Transport and the like.

I want to make the point that we understand the issues, and if we did not understand them before the consultation, we most definitely do now. There are obviously inherent dangers for all pedestrians, and the hon. Lady rightly identified the particular situations for her constituents, for whom I have genuine sympathy. However, it must be recognised that many towns and cities—as was clearly set out in the Transport Committee report and the consultation the Government undertook—are not designed to accommodate today’s traffic levels, and in some locations the pavement is the only place to park without obstructing the carriageway, not least because there needs to be a free flow of traffic for the emergency services, which is a factor that the Government have to consider.

I understand that issue, and I understand that one of the proposals is to have a blanket ban, but allow opt-outs in particular circumstances. That is clearly necessary, and I do not think anyone is arguing that there are not circumstances in which that would be the case. However, this is sounding as though we are not getting to a conclusion and that we are not going to have a decision on this issue, because it is too difficult. Is that right?

No, I think that is a slightly unfair, with great respect. I endorse entirely the comments of my noble Friend Lord Davies of Gower, who responded to that specific point in the House of Lords very recently. He specifically said that the Government were coming to a conclusion very soon. I have unquestionably become aware of that since having taken up this post, and it will unquestionably be decided in the very near future. I do not want the hon. Lady to walk away from this debate thinking that this is not under consideration.

As the hon. Lady knows, existing legislation allows local authorities to introduce traffic regulation orders to manage traffic. Examples are one-way streets or banned turns, and the TROs also allow local authorities the freedom to decide if and how they wish to restrict pavement parking in their local area. However, we acknowledge—and the consultation clearly shows—that the process of making a TRO can be time-consuming and burdensome for local authorities, and it is clear that that requires reform. What reform looks like is not simple, but we unquestionably feel there is a capability to do that. There is also scope to reduce the cost of this process, because there is undoubtedly a lot bureaucracy and time that goes with it. If one could introduce a digitised, non-paper-based system, that would speed up applications and clearly make communication better. There is a clause to make that change in the Automated Vehicles Bill, which is going through the House and had its Second Reading earlier this week, and that will make it quicker and cheaper for local authorities to implement TROs.

The second recommendation was about unnecessary obstruction of the road. There are already some criminal offences in this space, and we are looking at how we amend the regulations to make unnecessary obstruction of the pavement enforceable by local authorities, while leaving obstruction of the carriageway, rightly, as a criminal matter. This would label civil enforcement officers to address instances of unnecessarily obstructive pavement parking, as and when they find it. The enforcement of these offences would be more targeted than for a general prohibition of pavement parking.

The Minister has accepted that we have laws in London but not in the rest of the country. Would it not be consistent to have the same law across the board? After all, London is not the only important city. Cities such as Manchester or Birmingham are also important.

This option has challenges. Parking offences currently subject to local authority civil enforcement are violations of clearly defined restrictions indicated by traffic signs and road markings. By contrast, unnecessary obstruction that could not be indicated by traffic signs or bay marking as an obstruction is a general offence, which may occur anywhere. That is difficult to define and will require case-by-case assessment. The Department will likely need to issue very specific guidance to steer local authorities on what might be deemed unnecessary obstruction in order to prevent inappropriate and inconsistent enforcement.

The third option is a national prohibition. That is being considered, but there was considerable pushback against it in certain circumstances. As the hon. Member for Blaydon outlined, one would have to assess how it would possible in circumstances where there are significant and large local authorities, particularly rural ones, which would struggle to make the specific decisions on exemptions. However, we are looking at that particular situation to make a decision on where pavement parking would be necessary. A local authority would have to limit the necessary exemptions, and install traffic signs and bay marking to indicate all the places where pavement parking was to be permitted. That would be extremely difficult, particularly in rural areas. However, it is not by any stretch impossible.

Consideration also needs to be given to whether a ban would be disproportionate. I mentioned the rurality issue, but I want to finish on one key point. One can talk about the relative merits or otherwise of local government, and whether the London approach is the panacea that we all seek to say it is, but this is ultimately about the personal responsibility of the vehicle owner. I really want to ram home the point that, as is set out in the gospel, “do unto others as you would have done to yourself.”

I will not take a further intervention. It is unquestionably the case that we need to send a strong message to the drivers of this country that it is incumbent upon them to park responsibly, to look after their neighbour, and to be conscious of the wider impacts of their decision to own a car, so that in their street and community, they are accommodating the people who are struggling.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.