Upon finding out that the council doesn’t make money from car parking permits at an online public consultation, one wag piped up: “Well you’re more incompetent than I thought”.
It was one among many barbs thrown at a panel of officials consulting with the residents of Willowbrae North on the Controlled Parking Zone changes that they want to implement. Not just in this area but 31 others too, the scope of the four phase plan extending from Trinity to Portobello and from Roseburn and Gorgie to the edge of South Gyle.
Many of these areas are being targeted with permit parking, pay and display bays and double yellow lines in order to put an end to commuters and tourists parking in residential areas along the ‘A8 corridor’ and then taking public transport or walking into town.
While it’s a priority for councillors and city planners to decongest the city, the residents of Glenlee Gardens and Glenlee Avenue are the most vocal in their opposition to the changes in Willowbrae North. Myself among them. In part because both streets will lose 50% of their parking space to double yellow lines as they’re approximately 30 cm too narrow to warrant parking bays on both sides of the road.
Without the introduction of a CPZ, they’d likely be left as they are.
When we spoke to people in the tenements on Meadowbank Crescent or Queen’s Park Avenue we realised very few on affected streets knew about the changes. So the residents of Glenlee Gardens made a leaflet of their own, with the full online map of proposed changes and distributed it throughout the neighbourhood in as Covid safe a manner as possible.
We added in a survey too, to see what residents were using their cars for so that we could share the information with our local councillors in the hope of finding a better solution to congestion in the area.
Then the residents of Willowbrae North found themselves at two boisterous consultation meetings, where claims of council cash grabs were shot down with statistics (only 50% of the cost of vehicle permits is covered by the permits themselves, the rest is made from pay and display and fines); and where the admission was made that the council can’t tell us how much permits will cost because they’re currently reviewing the payment bands.
It seems that for local residents the issue isn’t just about losing half of our on street parking, it’s anger about poor communication from the council.
The city wide ‘Strategic Parking Review’ was approved in 2018, yet city officials can’t tell residents how many permit parking spaces are available in their area - just that it’s legal for the council to offer every household two permits, even though it looks like Willowbrae North will lose a minimum of 40 parking spaces, or 6% of parking. All officials can say is that permit parking will protect the neighbourhood from commuter congestion and commit to reviewing plans for Glenlee Avenue and Glenlee Gardens. The consultation also raised the thorny issue of rat run shortcut Paisley Crescent.
Although Paisley Crescent is just outside the proposed CPZ area, it is the main route that children in Willowbrae North take to school. A steep road with a blind corner, often used as a shortcut by commuters, the street has dazzlingly low light in the winter mornings. Very young children are often forced to walk up the middle of the road to school because the pavements are too icy.
The average take up of permits in a CPZ area is 60%, which begs the question, where are people who can’t afford to buy a permit parking? For the residents of Willowbrae North, the answer would preferably not be Paisley Crescent.
Some in the area, however, are quick to point out the benefits of a CPZ. Living in a tenement flat on Queens Park Avenue, teacher Claire Wilson is looking forward to it. She says: “My parents are over in Marchmont and permits made a huge difference. They weren’t happy paying for it [a permit] at the beginning, but a lot of their problems with the hospital staff and the students got sorted out.”
Yet by introducing a city wide permit scheme with band pricing based on vehicle emissions, it seems that the poorest in the city will bear the financial brunt of the council’s efforts to be carbon neutral. It is not the people with private driveways and new cars that are affected by this plan. It is the people that are driving older vehicles and living on narrow streets or in tenements, and often that means people on low incomes.
The survey the residents of Glenlee Gardens sent out found two key things; firstly, that only a minority of respondents used their vehicles to travel into Edinburgh. Often residents use their vehicles to go out of town because public transport infrastructure doesn’t flow well in the area. It’s a 15 minute journey to get to Princes Street by bus from Willowbrae North, but going into town to change buses adds extra time to many local commuters’ journeys.
One teacher I spoke to explained that she would have an 80 minute one-way commute to work by public transport, by car it’s 20 minutes.
And secondly, that the number one reason people (80% of respondents) used their vehicle was to visit friends and family. In the middle of a pandemic the council is asking people to pay extra for parking on their own streets or to give up the means by which they have to visit loved ones. It looks as if this city wide consultation may well backfire on the council as seriously as the 2002 congestion charge referendum, no matter how well-intended their plans.