There is an old Chinese proverb ‘When a finger points to the moon, let’s speak about the moon, not the finger’. Ifield Labour Councillor and Cabinet Member Peter Smith was quoted selectively by Conservative councillor Martin Stone from a five year old document.
Clearly parking remains a problem throughout Crawley -; ifield included -; but to suggest that that ‘progress’ would be faster if Peter Smith were no longer Cabinet Member with some influence on this is – to put it politely- disingenuous. Let me briefly ‘look at the moon’ rather than ‘the finger’….
At one extreme, perhaps, we could increase residential parking in Crawley if financial resources and space available were limitless. I suspect though that making more space available would only encourage more car ownership. This would inevitably involve getting rid of grass verges and trees near homes. Most of Crawley was built at a time when few people had cars and so increasing parking provision is an incremental and (increasingly) financially constrained process not helped by the division of responsibilities between Crawley Borough Council and (Conservative controlled) West Sussex County Council. I know that the number of parking improvement schemes in Crawley (each of which can be justified by residents) is at least 100 and resources just do not allow more than a very few schemes annually to be prioritised and implemented. I also know that simply providing one more parking space costs thousands. I have particular knowledge of a parking improvement scheme which took place ten years ago which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and took many months to complete. Whilst more parking spaces were provided, ten years later, all the spaces are filled -; fine – but the remaining grass verges are still churned up every winter by cars and (increasingly?) commercial vehicles. Unimpeded two way traffic is a rarity just as it was over ten years ago and pedestrians complain about vehicles parked on footpaths. Was this a good use of ‘taxpayers’ money’? I have my doubts.
At the other extreme, in the light of plentiful evidence of the harmful effects of private motorised transport on the environment and human health -; for instance almost 80 people per day die in this country as a direct result of air pollution largely caused by vehicle emissions -; car use could be vigorously discouraged by a series of ‘sticks’ via steep increases in fuel and vehicle taxation, increasingly expensive parking charges etc. as well as ‘carrots’ such as increased subsidisation of public transport, walking and cycling etc. Whilst such a radical policy has its environmental and health benefits, clearly the ‘sticks’ potentially infringe upon individual liberty and would no doubt involve increases in taxation -; nationally and locally which are unlikely to be electorally popular -; at a time when individual incomes have been under considerable pressure for years as a result of the world recession.
Any responsible Cabinet Member (of whatever political party) has to strike some sort of balance between these two extremes and this is not easy. Peter Smith does his best to set an example in his personal behaviour by cycling and walking as much as possible rather than driving. I know how involved he has been in pushing forward viable small scale parking improvement schemes locally as well as doing all he can to improve cycling infrastructure in Crawley -; as well, for instance, as working pro-actively as a Cabinet Member on regenerating the town centre and instituting a new scheme to improve the skills of many working people in Crawley. His considerable efforts deserve credit rather than criticism based on selective quotation from a document written when he was not even a councillor.
Labour councillor for Northgate