Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The unintended consequences of environmental policies

Is there an environmental policy implemented in the last 20 years in the Western world that has not had negative unintended consequences?

In Australia the Big E environmental movement has ensured that no new dams have been built leading to water shortages in all of the country's major cities. They've ensured that forests in fire zones are not cleared of fuel, the fuel that led to the massive destruction and death recently, not to mention the millions of animals that perished, in the Victorian bushfire tragedy. The list is almost endless. Of course, they take no responsibility on the grounds that they simply don't care about the impact on people.

Here's a
classic example from Essex County in England:
The contortionist’s skill required to squeeze a car into a tiny modern garage and climb out of a barely opened door will become redundant under plans to allow more generous parking provision on new housing estates.

A decade after the Government ordered developers to discourage car ownership by making it difficult to park, a local authority has produced new guidance that acknowledges that the policy has failed.

Far from reducing car usage, the policy has turned modern housing developments into obstacle courses for pedestrians and cyclists, who routinely find pavements and cycle paths occupied by cars with nowhere else to park.

A study by Essex County Council found that 78 per cent of garages were not being used to store vehicles, largely because a trend towards larger cars and 4x4s meant that many did not fit comfortably inside the space.

Essex has become the first authority to challenge the Government’s anti-car planning guidelines. It has issued draft guidelines that require larger garages and driveways, more parking spaces per dwelling, bigger on-street bays and at least 25 extra spaces for visitors for every 100 homes. The council has discussed its approach with several other authorities interested in relaxing limits on parking.

The new parking standards will be treated as a minimum rather than, as at present, a maximum. Developers will be free, for the first time in a decade, to offer as many spaces as they believe their customers will want.

Garages will have to be at least 7 metres by 3 metres (23ft by 10ft), as opposed to the existing guidance of 5 metres by 2.5 metres. Any garage smaller than the new dimensions will be treated as a storeroom and not counted towards the minimum number of parking spaces. Any home with two or more bedrooms will require at least two spaces.

The council found that planning guidance issued between 1998 and 2001 had created a severe shortage of spaces in many developments. Families had responded not by giving up their second car but by parking on narrow residential roads, blocking access for emergency services and refuse collection lorries.

There are more than 1.5 cars per home in 35 per cent of council wards in Essex. Nationally, there are more homes with two or more cars than there are homes without a car.

The proportion of car-less households fell from 45 per cent in 1976 to 24 per cent in 2006. Over the same period, the proportion of homes with two or more cars rose from 11 per cent to 32 per cent.

Norman Hume, the Conservative-controlled council’s Cabinet member for transport, said: “This new parking guidance is a radical break from the past failed approach which has seen local communities blighted by parked cars. We are effectively asking people whether we should continue living in neighbourhoods that often have the appearance of disorganised car parks or if instead we should look much more closely at how we accommodate the car to allow a better quality of life for our residents.”

The Campaign for Better Transport, which promotes alternatives to cars, said that Essex was undermining a decade of work to help people to become less car-dependent. Stephen Joseph, the campaign’s director, said: “Essex will create a new generation of car-dominated estates, causing congestion and pollution. In the guise of offering freedom, people will be locked into car dependency. Homes will be too spread out to make good public transport feasible.”

Mr Joseph said that Essex should have adopted the approach in Cambridge and Kent Thameside, where clusters of new homes are being built close to dedicated bus lanes offering fast, regular services.

John Jowers, Cabinet member for planning in Essex, said: “Whether you like it or not, you have to live with the car. Rationing parking spaces doesn’t stop people owning cars, it just means they park where it is most inconvenient for everyone else.”

He said that Essex was considering reducing the number of people commuting by car by imposing a charge on workplace parking spaces.
These people would have known up front that this would be the effect of their policy, as the Council would typically allow public comment before legislation is introduced.

How long will it take before environmentalism is considered in the same negative category as fascism?

(Nothing Follows)


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