It’s time to cool it over parking

Comment, by Gary Shipton Editor In Chief

Neil Simon’s classic American comedy Plaza Suite culminates in an increasingly nervous bride-to-be locking herself in the hotel bathroom and refusing to emerge.

In a scene riddled with slapstick, farce and angst, the wedding-day plans seem doomed - until the groom walks in, knocks on the door and says bluntly: ‘Mimsey, this is Bordon. Cool it.’

Horsham needs a ‘cool it’ moment now. And I may not be a young man on the threshold of marriage - but I’m calling it.

In recent months there has been a growing groundswell of anger at the Horsham District Council’s parking services operation. Two weeks ago, the council apologised and admitted that staff had shown ‘poor judgement when parking during enforcement’ earlier this month.

Last week, an extraordinary piece of video appeared on the Horsham Facebook page in which the cameraman challenged two traffic wardens claiming a council van had hit the car parked behind and demanding a note be left for the car’s owner.

There is no footage of what went before to justify the cameraman’s claim. As the County Times said last week in its very full and prominent report: ‘This newspaper does not seek to judge the council staff based on this one film clip. The alleged collision is not recorded and we would not wish to take this snapshot of an incident out of context.’

However, having seen the footage myself, contrary to the views of others, I was struck by how professionally the two wardens handled the situation - saying nothing as they examined the car and van while under the intense scrutiny of a videocamera. Their professional behaviour was exemplary.

Street Broadcast Horsham, the group which says it was behind the filming, plan to monitor the town’s car parks and traffic wardens and step in and pay parking charges when fines are being issued.

Their spokesman made clear that this was not a ‘vendetta’ and said that the council was fair with parking charges - but there were a few people who were exasperated with parking fines and the way officers were conducting themselves. ‘So many people are being caught out, especially in the evenings, which is ridiculous. It’s not just about parking, it’s about people having a voice.’

But people do have a voice. They have the County Times, other local publications and websites, and social media - a tool so powerful it has ignited revolutions in countries around the globe.

Some have spoken with that voice very clearly in the past few weeks on the issue of parking - and we have done our job and given them a significant platform. That’s the way democracy works. I have no doubt that their message has got across.

However, let us not forget that while there may be room for improvement in some areas, our parking wardens do an excellent job for the community.

It is an extraordinarily challenging role at the best of times - recipients of parking fines are rarely grateful - and is hardly well remunerated.

They perform a crucial community role. We should celebrate their huge contribution.

Without them, we would face chaos on our streets and in our car parks. The alternative to parking wardens is anarchy - and that’s not something we do here.

To add video vigilantes to their daily workload is not acceptable. I wouldn’t want video cameras challenging me every step of the way - would you? I am not certain how I might perform in such circumstances, but quite probably not as well as the two officials this week.

Horsham District Council and their staff are doing their very best in tough economic conditions. It’s our job to challenge them and to report criticism - but we do need to show respect and understanding too.

The County Times ran a campaign some years ago called Horsham’s Best. The time has come to reinstate it and remind everyone - myself and our newspapers included - of what makes the district so special.

To those who want to avoid a parking fine, I say this - buy a pay and display ticket like the rest of us.

To the few who feel further action is needed, I repeat the famous quote from Bordon. ‘Cool it.’