The rumours are that Oxford City Council is planning to hand over control of the three park-and-ride car parks which it controls to Oxfordshire County Council, that all park-and-rides will be free, and that more spaces will be provided. The aim, of course, is encouragement to drivers to stay out of the city by offering them an incentive to park on the edge of town.
I yield to none in my contempt for Oxfordshire County Council’s highways people, but the one sensible decision to come from them was the one to make their own park-and-rides free some time ago.
The long dominance of Labour in the city’s politics always made it difficult to introduce concepts like “incentive” and “encouragement”. They have moderated a bit now, and there are only one or two left of the old-style Pre-Silurian Marxist-Leninist councillors, but for years the idea of a consensual approach to traffic problems was seen as woolly liberalism. Whether many of them can spell “incentive” or “encouragement” even now is a different matter.
Lib Dem councillor Jean Fooks may permit herself a wry smile. She was highways chairman at Oxford City Council when, in June 2001, it was proposed to increase the park-and-ride charge from 50 pence to £1. She opposed the increase on the sensible grounds that it was a disincentive to using the park-and-rides, and was sacked by the ineffectual Corinna Redman, then Lib Dem leader.
Smarmy Alex Hollingsworth, then leader of the newly-dispossessed Labour group, and a man who never missed a chance to make a political point, described this as “punishment for standing up for what the majority of local businesses thought was common sense”. What the majority of local businesses thought at the time was that if we had not had 17 years of Labour rule, we might not have had to worry about filling budget black holes with increased parking charges.
The spendthrifts at Oxfordshire Highways have had their pocket money taken away by the government, as Gordon Brown tumbles to the fact that the sight of highways officers scattering bank notes along the gutters is not likely to win votes. Aside from the money saved, that should put an end to the infinite sequence of unnecessary road works which has gummed up the traffic for year after year. The highways people will have to settle for the mundane task of filling in holes in the road and similar useful activities, and this, combined with greater park-and-ride use, may begin to let the traffic flow again.