Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a city that doesn’t stand still. We make history and we shape our own future. Our citizens are warm and welcoming. It is a great place to live, work, visit and do business. In order to do this, it is vital that we constantly review our infrastructure, balancing the economic needs with the environmental impacts on every decision that we make. We need modern, clean, efficient and affordable public transport to move people around our retail, cultural and business facilities, creating the right sort of environment for people to enjoy everything this city has to offer.
One of the biggest challenges we face is how to ensure we can deliver this vision while still providing access to private cars in the face of a climate emergency, and the imperative, both legal and moral, to improve air quality in the city centre.
According to the Department for Transport, the UK has more motor vehicles per mile than France, Germany or the Netherlands. Like most cities, this means Newcastle suffers congestion, whether that be at peak daily commuting times, when Newcastle United are at home, when our city hosts events such as the Great North Run or when shoppers are seeking the latest bargains from our diverse retail offering. Newcastle is the region’s capital and we have 50,000 vehicles coming into the city daily.
Parking and traffic management has a key role to play in keeping the traffic moving, making sure vehicles are safely and legally parked, and targeting any surplus made from charges into improving infrastructure, whether that be filling in potholes or redesigning junctions to support new housing developments, among other things. To facilitate a growing economy, effective management must enable people, goods and services to get where they are needed at the time they are needed. The eight multi-storey car parks and 47 surface car parks in our city provides part of the solution. We continue to support the night time economy through partnership with NE1, our business improvement district organisation, providing free parking in city centre multi-storey car parks after 5pm through our Alive After 5 programme.
We are working hard to install more cycle lanes across the city and to improve electric bays in all car parks and streets to promote an environmentally-friendly city where people can enjoy living and working. The council is currently consulting on the permanent closure of Blackett Street at the bottom of the already pedestrianised Northumberland Street. We have developed a ‘check-in, check-out’ service in the shopping centre car parks. This has proven to be a runaway success, with more people now choosing to pay for their parking by phone or by card rather than using cash.
Through a sustainable permit allocation policy, we can allocate permits to residents across the city, including city centre locations, without any waiting lists. To improve our residential permit offer still further, we are looking to develop a virtual permit system eliminating the need to display a permit in the vehicle.
Our priority is being a working city, having decent neighbourhoods, tackling inequalities and developing a fit-for-purpose council, whilst also meeting the objectives of the Local Transport Plan. As a local councillor, I receive many complaints about illegal and inconsiderate parking. It might be double-parking in a residential street with a school at one end, creating safety and access issues, or vehicles parked on pavements, not only damaging the walkway but making life difficult and dangerous for pedestrians who have to negotiate them. That is why we make no apology for introducing safe streets, employing mobile enforcement cameras and issuing penalty charge notices (PCNs). We are constantly looking at ways to make our roads safe for all users, parking services being a key component in this quest.
We are fully committed to being transparent and accountable for our parking service and enforcement technology, but unfortunately the public perception is too often that along with bus lane cameras, parking charges and fines are simply a cash cow to boost the council’s coffers. But any surplus is ring-fenced to support transport infrastructure, help us run day-to-day services and mitigate the impacts of brutal cuts.
I am very proud of the work being done in Newcastle in providing safe, fair and proportionate parking services, as well as processing PCNs for all environmental crime.
The council’s in-house team supports employment, statutory services and greatly contributes to the wellbeing and economic vibrancy of the city. We know that there are constant challenges to which we need to adapt. Whether it be climate change, air quality or further advances in technology, we need to be ready to act. Subject to the government approving our proposals, the team will be administering our city centre Clean Air Zone when it goes live in 2021.
That is why I was delighted this city was chosen as the host for the first Parking Show. Parking and traffic management is important. We must learn from issues of poor management and bad practice, to ensure that we deliver for our citizens, our communities, our businesses and our visitors.
Cllr Nick Kemp is cabinet member for environment and enforcement at Newcastle City Council
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