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Comment: We’re being fleeced by ludicrous regime

PUBLISHED: 07:26 07 April 2006 | UPDATED: 10:26 07 September 2010

I sought common sense, but these rules defy common sense by Alex Henney, London Motorists Action Group MANY, many years ago I lived in a house in Fellows Road that was wantonly destroyed by Camden to put up hideous and expensive tower blocks. Many years

I sought common sense, but these rules defy common sense"

by Alex Henney, London Motorists Action Group

MANY, many years ago I lived in a house in Fellows Road that was wantonly destroyed by Camden to put up hideous and expensive tower blocks. Many years ago I was chief housing officer of Haringey Borough, responsible, among other things, for project managing the house building programme. I got a scheme of 364 houses completed in a record three and a half years, from buying a 30-acre site.

I was then seconded to the (then) Department of the Environment. I analysed what was going on in Camden. The borough architect and borough planner had let a group of young architects, fresh from school, turn Camden into an experimental playground for 'modern' architecture.

Not only were the buildings bad mannered in not fitting in with their environment, they were very expensive to construct - Camden built the most expensive municipal housing in Britain, if not the world. They took an extraordinarily long time to construct, piling up the interest, and in due course were at best expensive to maintain and at worst, had serious faults. In the government I played a part in stopping the abuse of tax and rate-payers' money, devising controls that were designed to give councils more flexibility, to waste less.

In 1981 I wrote three reports - The Costs of Camden, The Continuing Costs of Camden, and More Costs of Camden - which looked at all the council's services. They were not a pretty sight.

Camden came top or near top of every cost league in town - housing costs, social services costs, refuse collection and so on, costing the ratepayers a fortune.

The Thatcher government stopped most of the nonsense and I lost interest in borough matters.

But I could not avoid noticing the increasing ugliness of 'Camden's clutter', the road signs instructing us to do this and not do that and the spread of humps and bumps, many of which serve no useful purpose.

Like other residents I could not avoid seeing the shambles Camden made of managing its own roadworks and those of the utilities, and the poorly done pavement and road repairs. All of this is undertaken by what is laughingly called the Culture and Environment Department, with Cllr John Thane responsible.

Then three years ago the council started harassing me. While visiting hospital I was towed from a pay and display bay three minutes after being ticketed.

Then came more tickets for trivial 'contraventions to the parking regulations', for which Thane and council officer Alex Williams believes we should be disciplined, and a clamping in Fellows Road mid Saturday morning four minutes after being ticketed. Something was not right.

The council turned my area into a controlled parking zone (CPZ) two years ago. Swains Lane is too far from tube stations for many commuters to park. The only congestion is caused by Tesco's trucks and people coming to the Heath on fine holidays and weekends, and there had been no parking problem for residents apart from these congest periods. But in the interests of bureaucratic conformity it had to be turned into a CPZ, which stopped me parking outside my house, across my drive.

I have to work fairly long hours to satisfy a range of clients around the world. After not being able to park in a pay and display bay at the weekend, I do not wake up on a Tuesday following a bank holiday thinking "I must move my car". So more tickets came and I made representations for common sense. I learnt that parking enforcement was not about common sense.

The name of the game is petty rules that defy common sense.

Then I was fined £100 for not displaying a new resident's permit, although the council had the money and paperwork in time (it was delayed by one wrong digit on the address).

All this is nothing less than municipal theft and exposes starkly that many - probably most - of the 400,000 tickets the council issues yearly have nothing to do with parking management. Along with targets for clamping 28,000 and towing 9,000 vehicles, the tickets are about fining motorists for trivial infractions. This is to generate revenue and also because some councillors are anti-motorist.

On an annual income of about £40m, Camden makes a profit of nearly £20m. That parking enforcement is tax farming is clear from a minute of the Parking Enforcement Working Group which states: "Over the last six months there has been a downturn in income and this revenue needs to be clawed back".

Parking enforcement is backed up with bully boy private bailiffs. In 2004 Camden issued 72,000 warrants of execution to private bailiffs. Most people who have experienced them know that private bailiffs are out of control - they bluster and bully and are not beyond illegalities, like fraudulent claims for fees and clamping vehicles on an owner's land.

The ones that came to visit me for a debt of £310 demanded with intimidation £1,060 - their fee of £750 was twice the debt. With patient correspondence I discovered that this fee was derived from a number of alleged visits to my house that were never made and £260 for 'a vehicle in attendance to collect goods'. No matter the bailiffs came to collect money; did not have a warrant to enter and take goods; and for this sum one can hire a 7.5 ton pantechnicon with a driver for five hours. But according to Mr Rudy Bright, the head of what is ludicrously in Camden called Parking Solutions, all was in accord with procedure.

This experience raised me from my torpor. With like-minded people, including Lord Lucas, actor Tom Conti, who has had bailiffs from both Camden and Transport for London defrauding him, Nick Mavrides, chairman of the Kentish Town Business Association, and Simon Aldridge, who won a court case against bailiffs Equita, we set up the London Motorists Action Group (www.lmag.org.uk) to fight back against council abuse.

Camden councillors and officers, led by Cllr Thane, seem to have forgotten that councils are here to help us, not to discipline us, harass us and bully us.


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