Battlelines: Penalty ..Penalty - you deserve it: A parking warden's life is not necessarily a happy one. That's because drivers can be total bastards. Sandra Barwick went out to see the force of evil in action and came back converted

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Oy] said the indignant woman in the passenger seat of the grey Vauxhall parked by a small row of shops.

Beside her the meter clearly flashed 'PENALTY . . . PENALTY. All it had required was 20p, but the effort needed to put her hand in her purse and lift it a few feet to the meter had apparently been too much. The only thing rising in her was anger.

'What are you doing? she demanded of the parking attendant. 'He's only gone in to the Post Office to pay a parking ticket, that's all] And she glared with righteous indignation as though the attendant, not she and her husband, were in the wrong.

This misplaced sense of righteous anger is, apparently, common among that selfish and dangerous minority of drivers, the habitual illegal parker. So much so that in Richmond there has been a spate of attacks on the new ticket collectors.

'One wasn't even on duty. said Mandy, parking attendant R303 in Richmond, unwilling to give her second name in case the attacks come close to home. 'He was in a pub in Richmond, and he was recognised and beaten up. We've had two incidents of attendants being knocked over by vehicles. It's astounding.

One has been attacked with a bike chain. Another has been threatened with a knife. They have been pelted with eggs. Swearing and insults, of course, are commonplace.

Mandy, an ex-housewife and mother of four children, has not been hit. Yet.

'We started work in Richmond at the end of January, and soon after I booked a car on an expired meter. The driver threatened to knock my block off and take me apart. she said.

In two hours on the beat with Mandy, the hostility was as obvious and, shocking as it was, in every case I saw, utterly unjustified. Up a residential side street a builder had parked his car on a house's drive so that its boot blocked half the pavement. From his ladder he saw Mandy coming. 'You are joking] he shouted belligerently.

She asked him politely to move it forward and moved on. Not far away the pavement in front of a garage forecourt was obstructed by two cars so that three-quarters of the pavement was taken up. A woman pushing a small child said she often found it hard to get through. A wheelchair would have been severely obstructed. The blind have probably given up walking round Richmond. 'That's on the footway. said Mandy, quietly, to the man who eventually emerged. 'Yeah. I know, he said.

A member of the public walked past as she began to tap the details into her portable computer, ready for the five-minute wait before she could book the cars. 'You're bloody unbelievable, you lot, he said. She gave him a nice big smile.

Further on she booked a car on an expired meter. In this, and in every other case over the two hours I watched, for each illegally parked car there were empty spaces yards away under the local pay and display scheme. A man appeared and drove another blatantly illegally parked car away in the nick of time. 'They're on bonus, you know] he said loudly. They are not. A parking attendant for Sureway Parking Services, which has the contract for the borough of Richmond, gets a flat wage of around pounds 11,000 a year. However, they do have a ticket quota that they are supposed to meet.

Anger and prejudice may have been fuelled by press coverage. The higher number of attendants under the new schemes means that there is a higher chance of being ticketed or clamped. This has led to a scream of protest from those who have doubled parked, blocked driveways, abused yellow lines and got away with it for years. It has also produced some legitimate objections from small shops and businesses who feel that their interests have not been considered.

The most famous representative of these is David Lidgate, owner of a butcher's shop selling high quality goods, with commensurate prices, on Holland Park Avenue. 'We're competing against the supermarkets satisfactorily at the moment, he says.

'Down the road they're opening two new supermarkets which will bring 4,000 extra cars in. They've been allowed big car parks. We only want 40 extra places. There's been no consultation. It's just the council making money from fining drivers. In the process they're killing the shops that people walk to. I reckon every new traffic warden will cost 10 Londoners their jobs.

Kensington and Chelsea council has now put in 14 short stay meters to serve the Holland Park Avenue parade of shops. It would certainly have been better if that had been done earlier. The whole subject of parking and small shops deserves full review: perhaps more flexible delivery licences could be granted to local business, or daytime pay and display introduced into residents' spaces in a few streets. And in many places parking regulations are too poorly displayed.

But there is another side to traders' complaints. Many customers parking illegally outside local shops in London already have residents' permits. Several times recently I have seen vehicles illegally parked on Holland Park Avenue, forcing a stream of cyclists - this is one of Kensington and Chelsea's busiest commuting cyclists routes -to risk life and limb between moving traffic and opening car doors. Round the corner an equivalent number of the new short-stay meters were empty. There is only one conclusion: some customers are simply too lazy to walk a matter of yards.

In Richmond too, local shops and businesses are waging war. Sue Abel from Harringtons in Church Street, Twickenham, says her jewellery shop's trade is down by between 20 and 30 per cent since ticketing was privatised and a new Tesco has opened, drawing shoppers away. A 'Save our Street] campaign is running.

Other retailers report similar pressures. David Bifulco closed his butcher's shop in St John's Wood and relocated in Cricklewood partly because strict wheel-clamping in St John's Wood in the late Eighties made trade and delivery so difficult: 'A lot of customers for meat are elderly, and they couldn't carry heavy loads far.

On the other hand, there are good reasons for many restrictions. Church Street in Twickenham is very narrow: a fire engine could well have problems getting past parked vans. And seconds away, through an archway, is a pay and display car park.

There is no question that London's old, piecemeal parking regulations need review, and many boroughs are rethinking the rules. Nick Lestor, director of the Parking Committe for London, agrees that reviews are urgently needed. More spaces can be found.

But if, after that, small shops and businesses are hit by more effective ticketing and jobs are lost for Londoners, as David Lidgate predicts, then the laziest of London's car drivers must take the rap as well.

(Photograph omitted)

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