Double Yellow Lies?
Over the Christmas break I spent some time visiting the in-laws in London, and in doing so learnt three things. Always lock the door when you have a shower; try not to freak out when you find your clothes put away for you from your suitcase – including your underwear; and apparently there’s a bit of a row going on in Westminster about parking.
Westminster Council are sparking a bit of a media storm with their decision to replace some of their single yellow lines with their doubled-up counterparts, meaning it will be harder for some to find off-peak parking spaces. The council say that this will mostly be where drop-kerbs are located, and so will make the area much easier to access and use for wheelchair and buggy users.
Of course, this view isn’t supported by local opposition to the scheme, which is claiming that 1191 off-peak spaces will disappear and further complaining that this news was only released on 24 December, when many were packing up for Christmas and not able to respond to this in the news.
Not taking into account the fact that the internet doesn’t close for Christmas (so they were more than able to respond if they felt that strongly), and not taking into account the fact that the two interpretations of the positives and negatives are so far apart that neither is probably truly objective any more, there is something fundamental to this story which is to put it frankly angering me: the supposition that the council is not doing this for the right reasons.
Regardless of ones stand on this particular scheme, the accusations being thrown at Westminster Council are staggering, and occasionally verging on libelous. There are those who truly seem to believe that the council is trying to actively destroy their own area of the capital in any way possible, and is determined to put every small business out of business.
I don’t work for Westminster Council, but I simply refuse to even consider that this is true. To suggest corruption and incompetence of this scale, involving not just a few people but teams and teams of officers who would have to be in league with ‘evil’ councillors begars belief.
This sort of scheme would no doubt have been required to have gone through extensive consultation with the public and affected stakeholders over a period of months, if not years. A press release from 2009 highlights these plans, and you can even read a table of responses from August online.
August was also the time this all went to their cabinet, with the required documentation available on the Council website. I’m not saying that every resident in the borough would have gone to those pages off their own backs, but the information was there for the public and certainly all local councillors would have known about these discussions before, during and after the final decision.
I’m not making a comment on the outcomes of this consultation as this blog is not a place to make party political statements. but it really annoys me that this whole thing plays into the evil, incompetent or arrogant council narrative that permeates society. If a trawl through the papers would be believed, any time any council has to make a tough decision or gets caught up in something which a vocal minority disagree with, it gets over simplified and the council gets placed firmly in the wrong. Little consideration is taken of the facts and work that officers would have done, simply that there is dissent with the authority and therefore the authority must be in the wrong. I can’t ever remember a similar situation where a council has been widely portrayed as having done the right thing or at least acknowledged to have undertaken the ‘right’ processes.
Councils in general – and the officers involved – are usually competent and caring, and are invariably bound by extensive sets of rules. Situations such as this result not from things being rushed through, or things being pushed through; they result from years of thought and planning, and often from years of having members o fthe community who don’t shout loudest making regular comments and complaints through appropriate channels that they want something changed.
These changes will not always be popular, and many will oppose what they see as a potential threat to their businesses. It appears that in this situation there was the opportunity to have done so and to have had your say. If your say wasn’t enough to stop the plans as is the case here, then those opponents need to work with the council in question to minimise the perceived harm, not petulantly stamp and kick up a media storm that achieves nothing but future problems for all involved, not just now but for all future consultations. A reputation for bad consultation and ignoring the public – however inaccurate – is like butter: very hard to unspread.
By all means raise concerns, criticise constructively but don’t accuse councils of shoving things through against the wishes of the public when in fact it’s more specifically against your own wishes. If you really don’t like it, then find a local politician or group who can come up with a viable alternative (not just who are saying that they oppose but have no other suitable options in place) and vote for them. The democratic process is built for just this form of protest.
In the meantime, you’d best learn to use the tube.
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