If Facebook is anything to go by, then no subject is more divisive to a community than 'parking'. It's very easy to point a finger and blame haulage companies, commuters or mum's and dad's at school drop off times, but in reality the issue of parking and congestion is much more wide spread around the village than many residents realise. Except for those living in the affected hot spots that is!
Hot spots such as St Martin's Drive, outside Anthony Roper and the high street are locations that often have people tooting their horns and swapping a few heated words, but the effects of poor parking can be problematic for many reasons, such as; the cost in repairing damaged vehicles; pedestrians and vehicles repeatedly coming into close contact, minor accidents and on the extreme side loss of life if emergency vehicles are not able to navigate through the traffic.
The parish council receives a number of complaints each year from concerned residents and whilst every complaint is treated very seriously and advice sought from Sevenoaks District Council or Kent Highways, the solution isn't always to pop in a few parking restrictions, such as yellow lines or bollards and hope this resolves the problem. The growing population invariably means more cars per household and potentially more school drop offs. A dwindling public transport service and more housing demands across the district means more road users in general, all of which put extra pressure on parking around the village. Any long term parking restriction plans need to be considered very carefully in order not to push the problem to another area of the village, where the affects of congestion may be even more detrimental. The parish council also need to consider that not all residents have access to off street parking and therefore putting in parking restrictions could be rather unfair on them.
So what can we do about the problem?
The parish council is aware that many streets in the village were not designed to accommodate the number of cars currently being parked in them. In the long term, the parish council has set up a parking committee who will be responsible for investigating viable parking initiatives. However, they are under no illusion that both budget constraints and available space for development, could limit these to small scale initiatives. The parish council and the Village Hall trustees are also working closely to ensure that parking is a consideration in the new village hall design should the project get the go ahead.
In the short term, arrangements have been made with the parish council and some of the pubs to open their car parks during school drop off and collection times, so they can be utiltised by parents. Although we would ask parents to vacate the parking space as soon as they have dropped off or collected their children to ensure the space is available for other parents.
We are also urging visitors, commuters and residents to exercise some restraint and take extra care when parking to ensure that the daily commute is more enjoyable and safe for all of us. For example, did you know that a fire engine needs 10ft (3 meters) of clearance to pass safely? Poorly parked cars could be putting the lives of friends, families and neighbours at risk and could make a difference in saving a life or not.
The parish council is also currently pursuing parking restriction initiatives around the village, to ensure that the roads are kept safe for both road users and pedestrians. By reducing parking on both sides of the high street, this will help to improve visibility and prevent narrowing of the road caused by double parking and ensure that vehicles and emergency vehicles can navigate around the village safely. However, these are just small steps towards alleviating what is becoming an increasing and more pressing problem.
How do other villages cope?
Parking issues seem to be a common occurrence across many rural villages and some residents have come up with creative ways to help reduce the problem. For example, some parents have taken to petitioning their school to open up space for designated drop off/pick up points within the school grounds. Other initiatives include a proactive approach to educating road users by training teachers / residents or parents to issue parking tickets through volunteer parking warden schemes.
Other villages approach the parking issue by communicating the importance of walking short journeys wherever possible, which not only has the added health benefits, but can reduce household bills by as much as £50-£100 per month.
Then of course there is the common sense approach, which includes road users not double parking their vehicles, leading to reduced sight lines, but could also mean avoiding a costly trip to the garage to replace wing mirrors; leaving more room at junctions, parking as close to the kerb as possible, leaving pavements clear so wheelchair or pushchairs users don't have to step into the road to pass parked cars and of course using indicators so other road users know your intentions and don't inadvertently block oncoming traffic.
This is clearly a problem that is set to be around for a while yet, but the parish council and parking committee welcome any ideas and collaboration to reduce the parking impact on the village. In the meantime, if you are experiencing problems with parking around the village, you can find more information about reporting nuisance parking here: http://www.kent.gov.uk/