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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Any way out of parking hell?
Parking rage
"Parking rage" is causing a surge in neighbour disputes, claims a survey

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

The pressure on parking spaces is driving motorists to extreme behaviour to bag some kerb space outside their home. Is there a way out of this parking tight spot?

You're driving back home, boot filled with shopping, couple of screaming children in the back and what happens? There's nowhere to park.

It doesn't seem that long ago when there was plenty of space to cruise up to your front door. Now the street is overflowing, cars parked nose to tail. It's going to be another long trek back.

"Parking rage" is rife on our space-starved streets, says a survey by insurer Direct Line, sparking neighbour disputes and bad behaviour.

In the South East, one in 20 people cite parking difficulties for why they moved home. And one in 10 have retaliated against a neighbours' annoying parking - in ways such as blocking their cars.

Green tax

It's not difficult to see what has happened. Britain is among the most densely populated developed countries in the world, and has one of the highest levels of car ownership in Europe. More cars, the same amount of space, equals nowhere to park. But finding an answer is less easy.

Parking charges
Gas-guzzlers could face higher charges for parking

Richmond council, in London, this week proposed linking parking controls to environmental measures, using the leverage of parking charges to encourage low-emission vehicles.

It's a green variation on the theme of rationing by price. If you want to park, you'll have to pay, if you want to have two cars, you'll pay more. If you want two 4x4s, it'll cost even more - up to 750 per year.

This might make parking more expensive, but it's not going to create any more space. And with projections that traffic is going to increase by 45% in the next couple of decades, finding a spot is only going to get tougher.

Permit queues

So where are all these extra cars going to be kept?

Parking permits for residents are already widespread - protecting spaces for local people. But what happens if there are more local motorists than there are spaces?

Parking sign
Residents' permits protect locals, but don't make more space

For a glimpse of the future, look at Brighton, in East Sussex, where, in some parts, there are waiting lists of up to two years for a residents' permit. A spokesman for the council says parking is the "number one issue".

It's not just the narrow streets of historic cities that are choked. Stevenage, a post-war new town in Hertfordshire, was designed on the assumption that car ownership would require only one parking space for every eight households.

Now there are parts of the country where it is more common to have two-car families than no-car families. And insurance firms have even spotted the emergence of the "five-car family".

Space: the final front-door

Putting this traffic growth into reverse is the aim of "car-free developments", which have sprouted up across inner-cities. These are new homes which have no parking spaces - and where residents are not entitled to a parking permit.

Robot car parks
"Robot" car parks can accommodate many more cars

But such parking controls are not going to be a magic wand in meeting the extra demand, warns Paul Watters of the AA Motoring Trust. And residents' zones can just push the problems elsewhere.

"Parking space is a scarce resource," he says - and the most practical response is to make much more efficient use of the space that's available.

This could mean breaking the mindset that we have a right to park outside our own front door. Instead, he says, councils might have to open up nearby public and company car parks for residential use at night time.

There could also be a more hi-tech approach. Edinburgh-based Skyparks builds automated underground car parks in which vehicles are stacked by a mechanical "robot" system.

Priced off the pavement

There are eight such automated car parks in Europe and Asia, including one in the Scottish capital - and director Colin Barksby says more are "on the design table" for the UK.

Double yellow lines
Double-yellow: The number of cars is expected to rise by a further 45%

The advantage is that they can pack in twice as many cars in the same space as a traditional, self-drive multi-storey. But there's a downside - they are much more expensive.

A less subtle approach is to build bigger car parks. In Dubai, the world's biggest multi-storey car park is under construction which will hold 34,000 vehicles on a 110-acre site. That's the entire parking capacity for Heathrow airport in a single building.

It's not exactly an option for an expensive, overcrowded, space-starved UK city.

Rather than looking for dramatic solutions, Peter Guest, president of the industry body, the British Parking Association, says the future of parking will be shaped not by technology, but market forces.

If the relentless pressure for kerb space continues, then the value of parking will also climb - and companies could start building off-street car parks for residents.

Public transport

But it's not a simple equation, he says. If parking costs become a major consideration, that in itself could begin to change patterns of car ownership.

London bus
The only route is better public transport, says MP

The long-term solution isn't any more parking spaces, says Clive Efford, a member of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, which carried out its own report into parking this year.

Instead, he argues that the only practical answer is to provide alternatives to using cars. More and more cars funnelling into the same amount of space isn't a problem that is going to resolve itself.

And he argues that parking revenues should be channelled into radical improvements in public transport, rather than going into the coffers of local authorities.

"We could very cheaply, without people noticing any huge hike in tax, all be contributing by using parking spaces to investment in public transport. And we'd soon see people start to shift their mode of transport."

It's not going to be soon enough for anyone circling the block again looking for that elusive space.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

What about making real investment in alternative ways to commute from work into towns. I cycle 10 miles each way to work in Newcastle. It's easily done in 45 minutes even on the poor roads & cycle paths that exist now. I've noticed more bikes on the roads in the last 18 months. If more proper, well maintained cycle routes were available the more people would see a bike as a viable alternative to using the car. As it is now the bike can't be regarded as a practical alternative because they're confined to crumbling cycle paths or pot-holed roads (not to mention inconsiderate drivers). When you're not dodging pot-holes, drains or slippery yellow lines you can maintain a good speed that in the rush hour over 10 miles is comparable to times taken by car.
Terry Lawrence, Cramlington, Northumberland

I find parking where I live n the North West isn't so bad. The problem is, everyone tries to pack in to London. I used to live in the south and find that traffic is a lot worse round there. Suggest if people find it so bad, they move up to some beautiful rural location round here.
TJ, Winsford, Cheshire

There is only one solution to this. We must all drive Sinclair C5's from now on!
Matthew Kerry, Swindon

My family have been trying to reduce our car habit, but have been continually stumped by the terrible public transport. Working 10 miles away from where I live, it would take me between 1 hr and 2 hrs to take the bus to work (not included walking 1 mile to catch the bus) compared to 15 minutes by car. It is just not practical to take public transport, so a car is essential. If public transport was seriously invested in, and not just talked about, then perhaps it would be a more feasible option.
Zoe, Suffolk

I'd love to be able to get to work by bus or train as I hate driving. If even one of us could get to work without a car, we could go from a four car family down to three. That would be great, but it isn't an option as public transport is just so hopeless.
Chris, Southampton, England

If there's no space ON the street go under it. Tube tunnel sized tunnels under major roads would provide good parking spaces... expensive, but when you remember that parking spaces in Mayfair sell for 60,000 not unrealistically expensive.
Peter, Nottingham

The people 'circling the block looking for that elusive space' should, frankly, just stop using their car. Especially in cities with good, functioning public transport like London there's really no excuse for having a car at all.

Two questions: 1. Does anyone remember Prescott's "integrated transport policy" from 1997? This was supposed to boost public transport, but has anyone seen any benefits. Perhaps Prescott was sidetracked with other issues. 2. Why has this government allowed unrestricted immigration when "Britain is the fifth most densely populated country in the world"? Recently, Blair claimed the government did not have an immigration policy. Such negligence in the commercial sector would lead to loss of job. Politicians, being for the most part venal creatures, simply resort to setting up another committee and raising taxes.
Tony Green, Harrogate

When I bought my current house in North London my first priority was that it should have off street parking. That was the one requirement that I would not budge on, and it was well worth the effort. I wholeheartedly agree with Clive Efford, more money should be ploughed into improving public transport, and parking revenue is a great way to fund it. Until public transport is reliable, convenient, has greater coverage and is clean and frequent enough you won't reduce the numbers of cars on the road.
Howard, London

One of my neighbours puts his dustbin into the road when he leaves home with his car, to save "his" space. Illegal but understandable. If his son comes to call, and the bin is out, he often parks his car outside my house!
Alan Peryer, Newport, Gwent

At the age of 27, I still can't drive. I find it very annoying when car-dependant friends and family keep on asking me when I am going to learn (never!), like I have to justify not being able to drive. But they usually shut up when I point out that I never have to find a parking space...
Helen, Bristol, UK

Inconsiderate parking is bad for pedestrians as well. In my neighbourhood push- and wheelchair users often have to go in the road because selfish motorists park on the pavement. And there should be a limit on how many cars can be registered at one address. Some of my neighbours keep four or five cars.
Roy Smith, Burntwood UK

Bicycles, public transport, smaller cars and not living in London all help to eleviate parking problems.
Tony Lacey, Manchester, UK

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