Eric Pickles's plan to give 15-minute grace on double-yellow lines is denounced as 'unworkable'

Lib Dems split over support for cabinet colleague

Plans to grant motorists a 15-minute grace window allowing them to park on double yellow lines while they pop into a shop came under fire yesterday from local authorities, road safety campaigners and even drivers’ groups who described them as dangerous and flawed.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is backing the scheme, which he believes could help regenerate high streets where decline is often blamed on ruthlessly efficient traffic wardens and costly parking.

Councils were urged to rein in what was described as an “over-zealous enforcement culture” which has seen illicit parking generate more than £1 million a day in fines for town hall chiefs.

Mr Pickles floated the idea in an article in The Daily Telegraph, prompting speculation that it marked a split within the Coalition after the Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker said the idea was “unworkable”.  However, Business Secretary Vince Cable later expressed “sympathy” for Mr Pickles' plans.

Under the proposal those who took longer than a quarter of an hour would face fines of £130. Currently motorists who flout restrictions must pay £70 outside London and £130 in the capital.

The Local Government Association said double yellow lines were there to prevent accidents and keep traffic flowing. Introducing the 15-minute window would be impossible to monitor as well as costly to introduce, it said.

Cllr Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board, said: “Removing parking restrictions on these parts of the road could jeopardise the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists and create further traffic jams.”

Whilst the AA said it was in favour of some easing of the rules, the RAC warned businesses were likely to be adversely affected by a “parking free-for-all”.

Even business groups gave the plan only a cautious thumbs-up. Michael Weedon, of the British Independent Retailers Association, said the lifting of restrictions - whilst welcome in theory - should only take place if it was certain it would not impact on safety.

John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This proposal highlights the need for a clear discussion about parking provision across the country and how to limit the use of parking fees and fines for financial gain.”

But Ellen Booth of the road safety charity Brake said there was no evidence to suggest that relaxing double yellow lines would encourage more local spending and called for the wider introduction of 20mph zones.

“Instead of encouraging more people to drive to busy city centres, Brake urges the government to do more to encourage the public to arrive by other forms of transport by making streets safer for walking and cycling and by introducing more park and ride facilities,” she said.

Earlier this month the High Court ruled that local authorities could not increase parking charges as a means of raising revenues following a test case involving Barnet council in north London.

It is a far cry from what could have been envisaged by George Bamber, a farmer who can lay claim to being the architect of the ubiquitous yellow stripes which, along with their pernicious cousin the red line, now mark hundreds of thousands of miles of British roads out of bounds to vehicles.

Bamber, who died in 1902 nearly half a century before the Road Traffic Act enshrined his creation in law, copied the symbols from the markings on the sheep he kept at his property at Masham, North Yorkshire.

He painted them on the road around the perimeter of his holding to ward off parked carts on the town’s busy market day. The idea was rapidly copied by the local mayor and those in surrounding villages although it did not appear in London until the mid-1950s when it was introduced in a bid to control parking around Chinese restaurants in Soho.

It was not until 1960 that the necessary legislation was passed to make the markings law in the UK and what remained of its empire - although the powers to enforce parking regulations have been routinely updated and extended ever since.

For decades motorists have lamented Bamber’s controlling vision which has helped pit the driver against the forces of town hall bureaucracy and their outriders - the parking attendant - in an apparently never-ending war of attrition.

In one of the more notable examples of municipal literal-mindedness Theatre Street in Norwich was for a while home to the UK’s shortest double yellow line measuring just 24 inches.

Drivers have complained at having the markings painted around their parked vehicles and tickets issued whilst revelations earlier this year that some traffic wardens were earning in excess of £50,000 a year provoked outrage among the motoring lobby.