22 February 2017

Contrasting materials in Camden

Mr Mustard's client, Sara, parked here in Russell Square, one wet Sunday in October, but was further to the right in the picture. Consequently she was on top of the diagonal paving which delineates the area in which parking is allowed. She received a PCN for being on the footpath (not the bit that counts as the carriageway).

Mr Mustard pondered the situation. Unlike Sara he knew that the Secretary of State gives authorities to enforcement authorities to use a change in material to signify a change in designation of an area and this is done for aesthetic reasons. However, that change in material still needs to be adequate (sufficiently obvious) to communicate the change.

Mr Mustard challenged the PCN.

'She had no idea that she was parked on the pavement as the minor distinction in paving material does not make it obvious which is carriageway and which is footway. I expect that you have a Secretary of State authorisation for this (and please send me a copy) but despite that I do not think that the driver has been adequately informed of the restrictions in place and so you should cancel the PCN. In the future should she have to visit Camden by car she will look out this subtle nuance.'

A month later Camden Council responded:

A link was provided from which Mr Mustard downloaded a copy of the Secretary of State's authorisation under S64/S65.

Mr Mustard and Sara conferred and agreed to fight to the end as she regarded the situation thus:

'It's not just unfair, but outrageous that councils use different paving stones to delineate parking bays when the council knows full well that the ordinary motorist does not know this. How are motorists logically or practically expected to? If even at this stage it is impossible to know whether a resolution had been passed -- but can only know this by fighting to the end -- we have now entered into the likes of a Kafka nightmare. My point is how can a secret resolution be deemed public knowledge? Moreover, why create these "aesthetic" parking areas that taper off diagonally unless the intention is to trap people into parking incorrectly? What next: no parking signs anywhere, ever?'

The Notice to Owner duly arrived just before Xmas and on 23 December Mr Mustard made the following on line representation:

'The required contrast in materials between the parking bay and the pavement does not exist' 

as Mr Mustard was not in the mood to waste too many words.

A month later back came Camden Council. They repeated the relevant section of the Secretary of State's authorisation and went on to say:

'Whilst it is indeed regrettable that you were unaware that the rear of the vehicle was parked on the footway, the onus ultimately lies with the driver to ensure that they have reviewed the relevant bay demarcations and signage and park accordingly.'

There was no legal requirement to re-offer the 50% discount at this stage and Camden Council did not do so. It is then an easy decision for Sara to make. Pay £130 without a fight or have a free fight (called an Appeal) at London Tribunals which Camden Council have to pay the £30 fee for and pay nothing if you win and the same £130 if you lose; plus if you attend the hearing you get a chance to buy Mr Mustard a pint at The Inn of Court which he needs as he has done most of the talking.

The Oliver's Island was excellent today, the first pint out of the barrel
So, easy decision made, an on line Appeal was started at the end of January and a hearing date was set for a personal hearing on 1 March.

Today Mr Mustard went looking for the evidence pack as he had not received it from Camden Council. Instead on the appeal website he found that Camden had filed a DNC form. DNC stands for Do Not Contest. So now, having been faced twice with the same simple one line argument, there is no contrast between the materials used, which they had rejected twice, the council all of sudden, when getting close to having the matter decided by an independent legally qualified adjudicator, decide to throw in the towel. The PCN will be formally cancelled overnight by the lead adjudicator.

It is wrong of councils (not just Camden) to twice reject perfectly good arguments (the ones that Mr Mustard usually employs) in order, in Mr Mustard's opinion, to try and nudge (bully / bludgeon / mislead? choose your own description here) motorists into paying up at either 50% or 100% when the motorist was not at all in the wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having different coloured pavoirs to identify a parking area but two shades of grey is not a contrast.

So, just to help you Camden Council

No contrast, all shades of grey, like granite
High contrast, but green coloured paving probably not a good idea.
In future, Camden Council, you need to accept valid challenges at an earlier stage. If Mr Mustard is on the other end of the tug of war, he does not let go of the rope. All you do is waste £30 in fees.

Other motorists in Camden High Street, Russell Square and around central London, best look out for subtle changes in paving, even when it is raining cats and dogs, so that you can avoid the rigmarole of a challenge.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update by Sara

Don't know how to access your tweet, but I did read your blog entry about my case and enjoyed it! No laughing matter, the way the parking regime operates, but at least you manage to inject humour into your reporting!

Actually, am trying to learn something from the experience so I assume that they backed down because they knew they would not be able to show that the contrasting paving materials were adequately ... contrasting??

But there is even more to the story than I burdened you with, because I knew that these would not be relevant to my defence. However, I do feel strongly about it, so I'm going to tell you now. Feel free to disregard if you're too busy or if my crusade too boring.

1) One thing I noted from the PCN was that it was obviously issued within minutes of my parking and walking away. The CEO was -- no question -- hiding somewhere out of sight and waiting for me to park "incorrectly". Given that there is no paid parking on a Sunday, I guess these guys have to make sure to issue their quota of PCNs, so they know where to go. There is clearly the expectation that people will park in such a way as to ensure a nice little income stream.

2) The diagonal line over which I parked has to be a deliberate method of entrapment. The diagonal renders a whole section of the "carriageway" unusable and in the interests of fair play, should not include any of the paving stones upon which they will contend it is otherwise permissible to park. But it can only be that this is done on purpose. If the council were serious about playing fair, they will have become aware of how many people parked as I did -- in other words, unwittingly incorrectly. (I am sure, for instance that the statistics for that part of the pavement attract a much higher incidence of "infractions" than any other part. It would no doubt be interesting to know these statistics..... )

Just as an aside, while I don't wish to get into the merits or demerits of a certain Mr D. Trump, I find it extraordinary that the great British public gets riled up enough about his administration to protest in the streets, yet are quite complacent when it comes to their own government allowing councils the latitude to run "parking enforcement" the way they do. In fact the whole parking industry -- private and public -- operates in ways no other areas of enforcement would be able to get away with, with rules being specifically made to allow the motorist to be swindled, cheated and deprived of adequate remedies to injustices. This is what we should be protesting about, not some sociopath in Washington over whom we have no say.

Once again, my admiration to you for your part in ensuring whatever justice you can,



  1. Like all London councils, Camden 'game the system'. This essentially involves never accepting informal reps, and almost never accepting formal appeals, in the certain knowledge that the motorist will eventually cough-up. And it works, too ! Only about 1% of PCNs ever get to adjudication,not because 99% are correctly issued, but because motorists mainly are not aware of adjudication, and also because of the 50% discount option. British people seem to have a touching faith in councils always being correct !!

  2. Sara's Update and your own extra comment highlight a problem which I think can only get worse.

    Parking PCNs are a ready source of income. The principle that local council Parking Services should not be run as a business and in order to maximise profit, has in practice been abandoned.

    Cuts to local councils exert an ever greater pressure to maximise these surpluses. And also to run their systems dispensing with any obvious balance, fairness and reasonableness.

    It is understandable that councillors and senior staff choose short-term profitability - "we desperately need the money to provide vital services".

    But at the same time the small abuses of the system which you and Sara illustrate, risk damaging trust in local democracy.

    In this I tend to agree with Onora O'Neill's view that the important aspect is not a generalised trust, but trustworthiness of a person or an organisation in carrying out a particular task or function.

    To me it seems to follow that the question becomes: do motorists as electors and citizens, trust their elected local councils and staff to operate the parking system fairly and reasonably? If the answer has become 'No'. We all have a problem.
    A democratic problem; and an accountability problem.


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