WMN opinion: Time to stop persecuting those who dare to drive
As anyone who lives in the rural Westcountry will tell you, a car is a necessity, not a luxury. But drivers – rural and urban – have grown used to what can feel a little like persecution for daring to venture out on four wheels. While every effort seems to be made to accommodate the walkers, with well-marked footpaths crisscrossing the country and cycle lanes that spring up everywhere, drivers find themselves paying through the nose for road tax, fuel tax, parking and the rest, yet getting, in many cases a distinctly second-rate service.
That’s why Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ intervention, calling on local authorities to ditch the speed bumps, parking bollards and other impediments to sensible motoring is so welcome. When he says that anti-car dogma is contributing to the death of the traditional high street he is absolutely right. And while his idea for allowing motorists to park for a few minutes on double yellow lines was – rightly – condemned as a recipe for traffic chaos, hurting motorists as much as anyone, a more general pro-car policy initiative is welcome.
It is remarkable that a means of transport so widely used, so generally beneficial and so important to the economy – particularly the rural economy – should attract such negativity in town halls and council offices up and down the land. It is as if councillors and officers spend their time thinking up ways to make life more difficult and more tortuous for the motorist, in the full knowledge that the poor old car owner simply has to grin and bear it.
That is certainly the case here in the Westcountry where public transport to and from our furthest flung villages is patchy at best and non-existent in some cases. Driving to town to shop is what most rural folk do. Very many of them try to use local shops in the high street, rather than out of town supermarkets with free parking. But plenty give up what is becoming an ever more unequal struggle. While the big stores, who are driven by market forces, do all they can to make things simple for the car driver, with large free car parks conveniently situated, local councils – in many cases – adopt the opposite position, making it as difficult as possible to buy from town centres. The results are clear – our town centres are dying.
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There is nothing wrong with measures to encourage walking and cycling. Pedestrianised shopping streets are a joy – many Westcountry towns have benefited from them. Cycling is to be encouraged, for health and environmental reasons. But some local authorities seem to think that to encourage walking and cycling you must condemn car drivers. Of course cars need to be subjected to rules and regulations, but the pendulum has swung too far. In the early days of motoring a man with a red flag had to walk in front of every car to warn people it was approaching. We have, done away with that but the attitude persists.
Let’s hope Mr Pickles can bring about a change.