You can tell it's election time. Amid the furore about Richmond Park introducing a car parking charge, the political parties are falling over each other trying to prove how how they're on the side of the poor put-upon motorist. Here's the consultation document, by the way.
Now, it is a fact that motor traffic is not compatible with the environmental aims of the Park. It would be fair enough if the candidates were suggesting that there are better ways of mitigating the impact of motor traffic than the parking charge, but they're not.
Both incumbent Susan Kramer, for the oh-so-green Liberal Democrats, and arch-green guru Zac Goldsmith oppose the charges, and they don't have a Plan B. It's doubly ironic that on his website, Zac has a "Campaign to Protect our Green Spaces".
Meanwhile, Wandsworth Council's leader complained that "public transport options into the park are non-existent" and "visitors to the park have no choice about taking the car".
Well that's hardly surprising! That's because Wandsworth council, along with TfL and the other Councils around Richmond Park, have done precisely bugger all to reduce traffic through the park, make viable bus routes to the park (less than 2% of visitors currently arrive by public transport - source ), or decent-quality cycle routes where parents could take their kids. Don't forget, they've had since 1996 to do something, when Dame Jennifer Jenkins' report identified traffic in the park as a serious problem. 14 years, and not a sausage.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a fan of the parking charge either, because it lets the rat-runners who use the Park as a convenient short-cut, thereby polluting the park, killing all manner of wildlife, and damaging the tranquility of the park, get off without paying a penny. That's perverse, and as a measure to reduce motor traffic, it is fairly close to useless. I don't think many people will switch from their cars, because the charges aren't high enough. They're proposing £1/hour. The bus fare for a family of 4 would be £2.20. In fact, the Traffic Impact Assessment says that "the cost of a ticket is unlikely to deter many visitors". This is in direct contradiction to the Consultation Document which says "we hope the charges will encourage visitors who can to travel to the park by public transport, by bicycle, or on foot."
The other effect is that if local residents and other visitors who currently use the free car parking are displaced, that will make more parking available for visitors. In other words, the parking charge could actually increase the number of visitors arriving by car.
To be fair to the Parks Agency, they have a tricky job. There's a huge population within easy reach of the Park, and the sheer number of visitors put pressure on the natural environment. Because so many people are used to driving to, and through the Park, and because of the generally car-centric nature of British society, any attempt to curtail access for motors will meet with a perfect political storm, regardless of the scientific evidence that motor traffic is harming the Park. There is no upside for Councils surrounding the Park, who stand to lose votes if they speak against motor traffic in the Park.