Parking wars: Britain’s new road rage

Sybella Loram has lived for three years in the Somerset village of Norton Fitzwarren. Parking here has long been something of a minefield. When driving from her flat, where she works as a clairvoyant, the 52-year-old is often forced to navigate around cars haphazardly parked on both sides of the road of the Taylor Wimpey new-build development that was completed in 2016.

With space already at a premium, Loram warns yet more houses are being constructed to further extend the village into nearby fields. “The parking is pretty terrible here,” she says. “They are building so much that by the 2030s, I’m not sure there will be any land left.”

Such grumbling over parking – or the lack thereof – resonates across residential streets throughout the land. But as two people in Loram’s village have been found dead amid reports of disputes over neighbourhood parking, suddenly the spotlight is on what is proving an increasingly volatile issue.

Road rage has long been a well-publicised fixture of the nation’s highways, but passions over parking are becoming similarly inflamed, turning neighbours against one another much closer to home.

The problem is a simple one: ever more cars competing for an ever diminishing amount of space. Figures published last year revealed a record 40.4 million vehicles are registered on the UK’s roads. Light commercial vehicles recorded the biggest increase, rising 2.7 per cent on the previous year to cater for the number of deliveries we are ordering online, to be sent directly to our homes.

Stephen Chapple, 36, and wife Jennifer, 33, were found dead at their home following reports of a dispute over parking spaces

Credit: Josie Hooper Photography

And yet, as traffic increases, drivers are being forced to contend with fewer and fewer parking spaces – particularly so in new-build developments such as Norton Fitzwarren, where planning guidelines state so-called sustainable travel options such as walking, cycling or public transport should be prioritised over cars.

We are witnessing the Malthusian theory of populations outgrowing resources playing out upon our roads. This combined with grown-up children and their cars staying at home for longer, a preference for larger vehicles and SUVs, and surging demand for electric charging infrastructure, means we should be braced for our streets to become increasingly fierce battlegrounds between neighbours fighting over parking.

“It is a vicious circle between sustainable travel and car provision,” says Chris Saunders, who has spent 25 years advising councils on parking standards. A veteran of such disputes, and technical director of transport and infrastructure planning firm Motion, Saunders says reports of “heated discussions, people being blocked in or complaining of selfish neighbours” are all too common. “I’m not surprised by animosity,” he adds.

This week, Boris Johnson announced a plan to mandate electric car chargers across all new homes and buildings from next year. However, critics have warned this risks benefiting wealthier areas with space for off-street parking and leaving “blackspots” in areas where homes have less space. Another proposed Government policy to ban pavement parking outside London will, according to Saunders, further reduce the number of available spaces. “If you ban footway parking, you will only be able to park on one side of the road so that will squeeze it even further,” he says.

According to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (which outlines planning guidelines for England and was updated this July), new developments should promote sustainable transport ahead of prioritising individual car ownership. It is down to individual local authorities to agree with developers exactly how many parking spaces are allotted to new housing sites, but overall that number is falling, putting ever greater pressure on what existing provision there is.

In the Essex town of Rayleigh, near Basildon, concerned residents have come together to start their own petition against what has been termed “developer greed”, prioritising profit by building ever more houses without the necessary parking spaces for people moving in.

Aerial view of the scene in Dragon Rise, Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset where police continue to investigate the deaths of Stephen and Jennifer Chapple

Credit: Tom Wren/SWNS

Independent councillor Mike Wilkinson, a retired detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police, has supported residents in their calls for new infrastructure investment to keep pace with the increase in housing stock in the area. “Fewer cars would be utopia, but there needs to be more investment in local transport,” he says.

According to Wilkinson, they have successfully challenged developers proposing 30-apartment blocks with space for only 10 parking spaces to instead increase that to one per unit. However, even then, he says, the professional young couples moving in will often have one car each and be forced to park nearby on already congested streets.

He has received reports of one elderly vulnerable resident whose carers are unable to visit because of cars blocking her road. “We do get people who park inappropriately and block access,” he says.

A recent AA survey found that 33 per cent of disputes between neighbours revolve around cars. One need only give a cursory glance through the parking threads of the website Mumsnet to glean an idea of the icy hatred fomenting behind twitching curtains for our neighbours and their vehicles.

There have even been recent stories of entire streets turning on each other over parking. In 2018, police felt compelled to send a letter to every resident on a street in Swansea after a flurry of disagreements rapidly spiralled into what became known locally as “The battle of Orpheus Road”. The police letter sternly rebuked residents who had used bollards and bricks to reserve empty spaces on the street, noting that “they do not have ownership of any part of the road”.

Indeed, many of us appear unaware that there is no legal right to park outside our homes. According to a survey of 1,000 drivers conducted last year, 60 per cent presumed they were entitled to a parking spot by dint of living there. However, this is only the case if you have a marked disabled spot or another clearly designated space.

Lockdown and increasing patterns of working from home has intensified the potential for animosity between neighbours. A harassment case heard at Harrogate Magistrates Court this summer over one lockdown dispute over parking between neighbours in the North Yorkshire village of Sutton-in-Craven is a case in point. The court heard the disputes led to a restraining order being served and one household selling up and moving away after the parking row quickly spiralled.

There have been numerous high profile cases where neighbourly parking disputes have ended up in court, leading to ruinously expensive legal fees. Last year, a row over a shared parking space between two neighbours living in a leafy part of north London, which had rumbled on for nearly half a decade, ended up with them being forced to pay a combined legal bill of £110,000.

Others prefer to adopt a more subtle approach. In 2018, a war of words broke out between residents in the London Borough of Haringey over inconsiderate parking, but one waged entirely through scrawled notes left under windscreen wipers.

After being accused of “atrocious” parking leaving a car straddled across two bays, the driver responded with a message of their own, which offers some benign advice for these divided times: “Kindly stop putting passive aggressive notes on my car”…

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