Bristol Mayor 'politically isolated' on residents' parking

Businessman Tom Murray next to a poster opposing residents' parking in Bishopston
Image caption Butcher Tom Murray said residents and businesses do not want a residents' parking zone in Bishopston

Stroll down Bristol's Gloucester Road and the posters in shop windows scream out at you.

Emblazoned with a parking meter dressed as a highwayman, the poster likens a planned residents' parking zone to "highway robbery".

A tombstone signals the death of local trade and passers-by are warned to "think before you vote" in Thursday's elections.

However, if Mayor George Ferguson has his way, this city-wide parking scheme will be implemented, despite the clear opposition.

"I think there's no thought gone into this at all and there are a lot of residents and traders on Gloucester Road who actually don't want this," said butcher Tom Murray from the Gloucester Road Traders' Association.

"So, I'm uncertain as to why it's become an election issue when actually it's a fait accompli. Nobody can do anything about this, so it's non-democratic."

More than 50,000 residents and businesses in or near central Bristol will be affected by the mayor's plan to roll out 18 residents' parking zones within the next 18 months.

Blanket roll-out

He plans to charge up to £50 for the first car, more after that. He insists it is a "brave decision" that needs taking to clear the city's congested streets and to allow residents to park outside their own homes.

But many object to the way the consultation is being carried out.

Under previous administrations, local communities have been able to approve or reject the zones but this time the mayor has decided the blanket roll-out will happen no matter what - but with each scheme tailored to its area based on local views.

"It's bound to be that during the election there will be a lot of noise about something like this," said Mayor Ferguson.

"I could have been really crafty and eked this out really slowly but this only works if we do it on a comprehensive basis and I'm absolutely up for adjusting the way we do it across different areas, depending on their character and depending on the trading situation."

The mayor argues that - were an area to reject a zone - it could soon become the car park for the neighbourhood next door which may have brought one in.

But, the political parties believe communities should still be given the chance to opt out.

Councillor Mark Bradshaw is Labour's spokesman on transport: "I think that a blanket roll-out does run the risk of actually not engaging properly with local people and local businesses… local people should really be the deciders of whether a residents' parking zone comes to their area."

The Liberal Democrats are pushing for an extraordinary scrutiny committee meeting to further examine the detail of the contentious schemes.

"What we've said to the mayor is we do think residents' consent is essential and we don't think imposing these against people's will is a good way to work," said Councillor Tim Kent, Liberal Democrat group leader.

"We think it will build up other problems."

'Stealth tax'

Deputy Leader of the Conservatives Mark Weston, is sceptical of the zones in general.

"I'm not a fan because I think that in these economic times - anything that threatens our businesses has to be done very carefully indeed," he said.

"If you go down say Whiteladies Road you can already see numerous closed shops and I would hate to see that exacerbated by a scheme that was brought forward and had unintended consequences. It is a decision for local residents to make."

Even the Greens who support the residents' parking zones in general are sceptical of a blanket roll-out on this scale. They want groups of councillors and community leaders known as Neighbourhood Partnerships to be able to overrule the mayor.

Leader Tess Green said: "If Neighbourhood Partnerships have got a good reason to say no - then I think we have to strongly advise the mayor to take that advice.

"For instance, in the leafier areas of the city where people on the whole have driveways to park their cars in, they don't want it.

"It may be a waste of time trying to do it there anyway. If there isn't a problem why spend the money on it?"

UKIP is the only party to dismiss the schemes entirely.

Regional chairman Steve Wood said: "We oppose it because you pay council tax, you pay car insurance, you pay car tax, you shouldn't be charged to park outside your own home - there are other ways to raise money for the council other than the mayor's vanity schemes.

"Why should people be paying a stealth tax to park outside their own homes?"

With transport a key issue in congested Bristol - this and the introduction of city-wide 20mph zones are set to be defining policies of Mayor Ferguson's time in office.

"There are always going to be people who object on the basis of fear rather than hope and I've researched this enough to know what happens in other cities," he said.

"Locally, Kingsdown were only marginally in favour of it - now if you ask people in Kingsdown there's hardly anybody who would like it to go with nearly 90% in favour.

"People tend to fear change until they've experienced it."

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