The road to hell: Residents' parking schemes are pure Catch 22

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The Independent Online
One of the quirks of living in this quiet part of Ladbroke Grove - or North Holland Park as we like to call it - is that just as the habits of the 18th cen-tury Scots were recorded by Boswell, and those of the early 20th century Pacific Islanders were noted by Margaret Mead, so the minute details of our own daily millennial existence have been saved for future gawping generations by Martin Amis.

Amis was a Ladbroke lad and whatever he calls the oppressive inner city for fiction's sake in London Fields and the rest, it's Ladbroke Grove that he's talking about. And among the many themes sleazing their way through his pages, the one that strikes the most accurately jarring chord with his neighbours, more than the stickiness of the pubs or the fly-blown ambience of the cafes, is the state of the traffic.

More specifically it is the state of the non-traffic, of the parked cars, for at night-time the unlit double-parked cars present us with what Amis once described as a slalom course for those trying to move.

In a dozen roads off the top end of Ladbroke Grove itself it has become routine to park in the middle of the road if there isn't space at the kerb. The result is bad news for those trying to get from Ladbroke Grove to, say, St Marks Road; for those parked at the pavement and who now cannot get out because somebody has parked beside them; for those woken at 3am by the hooting of a trapped driver who wants to get home. It's a local problem, I know, and not one you need worry yourself about. What makes it more interesting is that it provides an object lesson in the insolubility of local problems by even the best-intentioned borough councils. Almost all of the rest of Kensington and Chelsea, apart from our little sector, has a residents' parking scheme.

In my street the parking is policed, logically enough, by the police who have more pressing calls upon their time - like the bloke selling hypodermics outside the junior school. Every six months or so they crack down on the double parking by towing away a couple of cars, which hardly encourages les autres.

The streets with residents' parking, meanwhile, are policed by the local authority, whose bylaws allow the council to hire men in fancy dress to walk up and down giving parking tickets and ordering the removal of unsuitably parked vehicles.

Kensington and Chelsea would like to impose a residents' parking scheme on our block were it not for the fact that 200 residents gathered in the church hall last year and told a couple of bemused councillors that the residents did not want a residents' parking scheme.

They had a point: the scheme as proposed would have cut parking spaces by one-third, would have cost those wanting parking permits an undisclosed annual fee, would have stopped customers parking outside the local shops and, worst of all, would have operated only between 9am and 6.30pm - leaving cars to continue double-parking at night, when they present the greatest hazard.

It would also have meant that there wouldn't have been enough spaces for the residents, for like most of this part of London, the vast majority of houses have been converted to three or four flats, with each flat having at least one car-owning resident.

But the council had a point too. Because the rest of the borough is now lined with residents' parking bays, our few streets are full of their overflow.

The council cannot remove the excess parked vehicles because,unless it sets up a parking scheme, it must leave patrols to the overstretched local police. In between are those of us who thought a residents' scheme is probably a good idea, but not the one proposed by the council.

We are also aware that once we get parking permits, we'll be able to park our cars in other parts of the borough which have the scheme - like the Kings Road, or outside Harrods. For the past yearthat was the stalemate, but now they've found a compromise. We are going to have residents' parking but we're not going to have it this year or, possibly, the next.

The rationale seems to be that those of us who don't want it will have a period of grace in which we can get in a lot of parking very quickly so that when the new rules are introduced we'll be bored with it. It's a compromise which ignores the reality of traffic in London - which is no surprise because London is a town which doesn't have enough room for its moving cars, let alone its parked ones. There is only one rational answer: ban private cars from the centre of town.

But speaking as a private car-owner who last took the Tube at the time of the first miners' strike, I know I'd be the first mounting the barricades if they tried to take my car away from me. Perhaps the real answer is that the council should own up and admit that if there is an answer then it hasn't found it.

But then London councils aren't terribly good at admitting that most of the problems of living in London are more or less insoluble.

(Photograph omitted)