Nicky Gavron, chair of the London Assembly’s planning committee, has condemned plans to ease parking provision in some of London’s new housing developments.
The changes were announced by deputy mayor for planning Sir Edward Lister, as a response to government wishes. Contained in the MALP – Minor Alterations to the London Plan – they will allow for greater parking provision by imposing a minimum car parking standard on certain developments in the outer boroughs.
The latest planning advice covers those parts of outer London with a low public transport accessibility – measuring 0-1 on the PTAL scale. IT suggests allowing up to two parking spaces per residential unit, while those areas with lower PTAL “should consider higher levels of provision”. In addition, 20% of new spaces will need to have provision for electric vehicle charging.
“The issue very much is, we’ve all seen them, those new housing estates where there isn’t sufficient parking and all that happens is that people still have the cars, and they just park them on the verges, or stick them on the grass, or they find somewhere to put them,” said Lister. “And very quickly, very nice housing schemes look a mess; and that was where a lot of the outer London boroughs were coming from.”
Lister said he had taken a lot of soundings, and not all outer London boroughs were in favour. “We have not sought to impose it on those boroughs that don’t want it. We’ve only tried to bring it in, for those boroughs that do want it, and where we’ve got very very low PTAL ratings.”
But Gavron is highly critical of the policy, and won a motion condemning teh changes. On her blog, she wrote: “London’s maximum car parking standards are designed to be enormously flexible, allowing up to two spaces per unit but giving local authorities wide discretion to provide more or less parking depending on local circumstances. The policy has been a cornerstone of our sustainable transport mission, and we’ve been highly successful in getting people out of their cars and onto bikes, buses, trains and feet.”
And speaking at the London Assembly plenary, she was equally forthright: “One of the most worrying aspects of the minor alterations is the mayor’s decision to introduce minimum car parking standards. Minimum car parking standards were abolished by the government of the day 22 years ago, and they are not part of national policy, and developers seem to have to impose them, whether they believe in them or not; and we’re just beginning to see coming forward now, really innovative forms of car-free, low carbon developments.”
“A lot of the Londoners coming to live in these new houses in parts of outer London will actually want to choose to cycle, or to walk to the bus, or to join a car club, or to car share, and so you can imagine it won’t make any sense to have minimum car parking standards – and we already have maximum, with the flexibility to go above that. And so given that we have that option, why are these minimum car parking standards needed at all?”
Gavron was equally critical of the relaxation of housing standards, which are being removed at the behest of central government. “At a time when over older population is peaking, we will have fewer homes adaptable for all stages of life. It means so little storage in the kitchen that you might have space for a waste bucket under your sink – forget about space for recycling. It means lower ceiling heights, exacerbating the urban heat island effect.”
LPA Perspective: There are plenty of residential property management companies who rued the day they took over managing schemes built in the last decade or so. I am aware of one major block manager whose management time was extensively taken up dealing with parking issues, on developments where residents simply had more cars than there were spaces. The resulting mayhem means fire engines, refuse trucks and delivery vehicles struggle to gain access, residents argue over parking spots, and car clampers are used, reluctantly, to police problem sites.
That was the practical side of planning discouraging car use. But Gavron can claim, with some justification, that it has helped change minds. The younger generation, particularly those living in urban settings, are less wedded to car ownership than their parents. In London, trains and buses do, largely, work well, while disruptive innovations such as car clubs, car sharing and Uber make it easier to get about without owning your own personal vehicle. Indeed, many planning permissions in central London now oblige developers to include car club membership for residents.
The relaxation of parking comes along with other recent initiatives to encourage electric vehicle use. The worry is that, by making vehicle parking easier too, electric vehicles will not simply take the place of traditional cars, but be bought by those previously using public transport or a bicycle. A careful watch will be needed, to ensure the car doesn’t start taking over once more.