Friday, May 05, 2006

Brian Rudman: Council's proposed inner-city parking bylaw a dead-end idea

Street-side parking in the inner suburbs has always been a perilous business. First you have to find an empty spot near your house. Then you have to leave your car to the tender mercy of those who park by touch, and to any passing rat-bag trying to break in.

Now Auckland City wants the power to tow my vehicle away if it hasn't moved in seven days. Parking officials want to add an anti-garaging by-law to the existing abandoned vehicle legislation they already employ. It thunders: "No person may ... park or keep continuously any vehicle, or part of a vehicle on a road, roadway or public space for a period exceeding seven days."

It's part of the council's campaign against congestion. But what causes more congestion? My little car tucked quietly against the kerb minding its own business, or me revving it up and taking it for an anti-garaging bylaw spin around the neighbourhood?

Luckily, council's legal advisers Simpson Grierson have warned the city to back off.

A report to a recent transport committee meeting explained that Simpson Grierson is concerned that "the proposed bylaw could be challenged as unreasonable in that it invades the common law right for passage on the road" and "without real evidence of an actual nuisance or problem, the bylaw could also be found to be unnecessary or unjustified".

The bureaucrats see the new anti-garaging bylaw as "an additional tool to dealing with potential nuisance" - their words.

Simpson Grierson warns that going after potential nuisance makers by targeting every person in Auckland City who may wish to park outside their house, could be going too far. Legally speaking that is.

The lawyers say it's arguable that the council has sufficient powers to deal with cars left for extended periods under existing Local Government Act abandoned vehicle procedures.

They say the bylaw is not targeted at a particular problem location and is not linked to a safety issue. It appears, they say, to be intended to address general policy that parking should be shared and that it is unfair for people to use road space as a place to park their vehicles continuously.

However, under the Local Government Act there must be an identified problem, nuisance or danger for such a bylaw to be imposed.

At last week's council meeting, instead of abandoning the chase, councillors decided to call for yet another report.

It would have been smarter to have cut their losses, taken Simpson Grierson's advice, and quietly dropped this draconian proposal.

I live in one of these so-called problem areas and, like many of my neighbours, lack off-street parking.

On occasion in the past I could well have fallen foul of the proposed new bylaw, either while away on holiday, or by being a good inner-city citizen and electing to walk or bus.

The thanks I get from my council is to seek the power to be lurking around the corner ready to impound my car if it doesn't move in seven days. How will they monitor that? Surely they have better things to do.

If they're concerned about congestion around my way, why, last October, did the council approve, without consulting neighbours, an 80-seater restaurant at the top of the street without requiring one off-street carpark?

The council's parking services manager Chris Geerlings says the city will get around 4000 complaints this year from people complaining about a car abandoned outside their house. He says 85 per cent of these cars turn out to be "garaged", parked there legally - if at length - by neighbours.

"At the moment, if the car is parked legally, in theory you can leave it there for ever."

But what happens is, council writes to the owner's address, and if there's no response within 14 days, they tow. If there's no response after another 21 days or so, the car will be dismantled or crushed.

Mr Geerlings says only two distraught owners have subsequently emerged in the past 18 months or so.

He says amendments to the Transport Act going through Parliament reduces the time before a car can be declared abandoned from 14 days to 10. To an on-street parker like myself, that sounds alarmingly short. As for seven days, that would be downright predatory.

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