Select Committee on London Local Authorities Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 120-139)

TUESDAY 22 OCTOBER 2002

MR WILLIAM BUTTERFIELD

120. Yes.

(Mr Butterfield) I cannot really answer that. My view would be that together with the extra money that the government are providing and so on there would be more activity, yes. Whether it would all be council activity is debatable. We have limited resources. I doubt that Westminster Council could do much more than it was doing when the police were assisting us.

The witness withdrew

MR NICHOLAS LESTER, Sworn

Examined by MR CLARKSON

121. You are Nicholas Lester?

(Mr Lester) Yes, I am.

122. What is your job?

(Mr Lester) I am the director of transport and environment for the Association of London Government.

123. What does that require you to do on a day to day basis?

(Mr Lester) I have two elements to my job. One is an operational job which is responsible for large amounts of enforcement in connection with local authority parking enforcement. The other is to coordinate and develop London-wide policies on behalf of the members of the Association with respect to transport, environment and related issues. Environment includes public protection, environmental health and air quality issues.

124. On a London-wide basis, taking it away from just Westminster, how important is the power that is sought from the Committee as far as London is concerned?

(Mr Lester) The whole issue of air quality across London is as important as the previous witness set out in terms of Westminster. We also identified against the government's objectives for nine air pollutants and the mayor's statutory duty to achieve seven of these - these are set down in the mayor's air quality strategy - the particular concerns of NOX and particulates that have been mentioned already. That is a matter that affects all of the boroughs. Air quality mapping is a particular issue that has been coordinated amongst all the boroughs and we have identified the areas that have substantial challenges in terms of bringing air quality up to the standard. These are not confined to central London but, perhaps not surprisingly given the proportion that comes from road traffic, are concentrated on the main road networks throughout London.

125. The particulates and NOX that you are testing for are for 2004/5 initial standards that I think we are aiming for at the moment. Is that right?

(Mr Lester) That is correct.

126. Do you consider that that will be a static standard or are there going to be higher objectives in the future?

(Mr Lester) The objectives could be enhanced in the future. At present, we are particularly concerned with even achieving those in 2004/5. We are currently engaged in a number of activities to try and support the authorities in trying to achieve those targets. Better enforcement is but one. We also have a London-wide study being carried out jointly with the Greater London Authority, for example, on low emission zones and the contribution they might make to improving air quality and meeting those targets.

127. If every vehicle on the road in London today is 100 per cent perfect in emission terms, is that a guarantee that in five years' time those same vehicles will be emissions perfect?

(Mr Lester) No, by no means. We have seen over the course of the years, particularly as Parliament, the government and the public have expressed their concerns about the issue, that standards have progressively been tightened.

128. Looking at the powers of authorities to check for emissions and the need to check for emissions, is this clause proposing anything extra by way of testing on the Road Haulage Association or anybody else?

(Mr Lester) No. The clause merely provides a simpler, more straightforward method to stop vehicles, to enable tests to take place.

129. Looking at the broader approach of the police, not just in Westminster, what are your views as to whether the Metropolitan Police Service has the wherewithal to undertake these duties throughout Greater London?

(Mr Lester) There are serious problems throughout Greater London. As I have mentioned in my proof of evidence, we have throughout London had to rely on police overtime and effectively voluntary cooperation by the police to secure vehicle stops. This time, these resources can be withdrawn at very short notice and that has caused a lot of the problems.

Even working within the current legislation, as I have set down, we have put in a bid to the Department of Trade and Industry for specific resources to employ or give extra resources to the Metropolitan Police for dedicated officers to stop vehicles; but even if that is acceptable it is by no means guaranteed that those police officers would in fact be dedicated to the task. They would still be general constables and if the Police or Commissioner had need to redeploy them on other purposes then they could do that. I think the sort of contract that is being suggested means that we might not have to pay in those circumstances for the time that was not dedicated but it would still mean the stops were not carried out.

130. Are there circumstances where people other than police officers can stop vehicles?

(Mr Lester) Yes, there are, and these include local authority school crossing patrols; they can obviously stop vehicles at specific sites - usually outside schools.

131. Is there any reason why council officers will fall short in training terms in stopping?

(Mr Lester) I see no reason why that should be the case. We have taken on from the Metropolitan Police Service school crossing patrols - that happened some years ago - and have enhanced the training of the officers concerned. In other areas where local authorities have taken on responsibilities from the Metropolitan Police, and parking enforcement is one, we have established nationally accredited qualifications, NVQs, to ensure training is both consistent and up to an acceptable standard.

132. What happens if there is a row, a conflict?

(Mr Lester) At present we would expect the police to be called. In many cases the police response time where there is an actual conflict is quite short, so they can reach the point of problem quickly. It seems to me that that is a much better use of police time, that they attend when there is a need rather than that they are there all the time. In practice, I understand that the level of conflict is not particularly great in these circumstances, although it does happen from time to time. I think we have more experience of this in parking enforcement where the level of conflict is significantly higher.

133. Security next, please. What do you see as the issue of security for those lorries and the like carrying valuable goods?

(Mr Lester) This is an important issue and is addressed at present by those vehicles which need high security, displaying a card effectively which says, "I will follow you to the nearest police station" rather than stopping in the roadside as in the normal way. I can see no reason why that should not also be applicable, but instead of using the police station the council's depot might be an appropriate place which would also, firstly, be identifiable - you cannot set up an imitation council depot very easily; and, secondly, it would have the necessary security, because those depots are secure for other purposes.

134. I want to turn now to the mechanics of how you would anticipate a typical stopping exercise, and how a local authority stop would be undertaken in comparison to one where the police officer is putting his hand up?

(Mr Lester) I think it would be very similar in practice. When Mr Butterfield was being examined he said that discussions were taking place on having a consistent uniform. I think if that was understood, for most motorists they would find it very difficult to spot the difference in practice.

135. Let us consider Lord Jacob's example of Marble Arch. There you would set up your cones and have officers in uniform. What difference would that mean for the individual motorist who has stopped?

(Mr Lester) Very little difference in practice. At present it is the council officers who decide which vehicles should be stopped and that, of course, is not proposed to be changed in any way. The only difference would be the detail of the uniform. It would be the same cones and the same sort of traffic layout as this is also determined largely by the local authority at present. Similarly with signs.

136. Let us try and give the Committee the sort of matters that you anticipate would be included in a code of practice?

(Mr Lester) We have set out a series of headings which I think are important, and we take all of them into account. The first is just the objectives of stopping and testing, so everybody understands what they are trying to achieve, and this is quite important. Second is the question of infrastructure, the equipment and the training that would be required for people to undertake this work.

137. I am sorry, we should have gone to page 16 of the exhibits.

(Mr Lester) We mentioned training earlier on. It is a very important element that we do take very seriously. The third element is deciding where vehicles should be stopped; not all streets and locations are suitable. We have mentioned Marble Arch before as a very suitable place to stop vehicles. Any place to stop and examine vehicles must be such so that it does not cause undue congestion further up the road network. Also it should be addressing where there are pollution problems as the important element. I have mentioned also the question of timing. We would not anticipate, and it does not happen at present I understand, stopping vehicles for tests after dark because of the danger that that might pose. The fourth element would be the layout of the stops, the signage, the cones, so that it was clear that any stop was going to be safe and well signed; and that is safety from everybody's point of view, including the testing officers who will be in traffic. The fifth element is deciding which vehicles to stop, and looking particularly at the question of secure vehicles and security issues which we have already mentioned, and any exemptions which apply to the emission control legislation. The sixth element is the procedure for stopping and testing. The stopping side is the point we are concerned about here today. The testing element is something local authorities have been doing for some time. Finally, we have mentioned the documentation that needs to be involved, again to ensure that there is consistency across London so that people knew what was going on and it would not be wildly different in one borough from the next. We do know that something like 10 per cent of Londoners do not know which borough they live in, so the number which do not know which borough they happen to be driving in at the time must be significantly higher.

138. Might I now turn to the effect of the Police Reform Act. Dealing in particular with Lord Listowel's point - how do you see the powers given to the Chief of Police Officers under that Act addressing the concerns that the Promoters are seeking to address by way of clause 10?

(Mr Lester) I would like to address it in three ways, if I may, because there are three different elements of the Act that might apply. The first is the traffic wardens, and this was the burden of Mr Ditchburn's letter saying he thought traffic wardens were the right way forward. I would just like to add to one of the points that was made earlier on, that the traffic warden service is currently significantly under strength, even against the estimates that the police have of their traffic warden requirements after decriminalisation of parking enforcement has been taken into account. I understand it is currently something in the order of 50 per cent under strength. The police are trying to recruit but they have not got the resources available to get anywhere near full strength. They are actively looking for more traffic wardens to be transferred on to bus safety and security issues. This is, indeed, causing significant shortage of resource problems on even enforcing red routes. Many red routes in London are not enforced substantially at present. There is a migration of illegal parking from yellow lines on borough roads on to red routes, which seems to me to be totally contrary to what everybody wants to see. So that the question of using traffic wardens, even though the Police Reform Act has given them power to stop vehicles, seems unlikely to result in any improvements for the authorities in the foreseeable future.

139. Who would be funding the bringing up of traffic wardens to full complement?

(Mr Lester) The Metropolitan Police Authority. The second element is community support officers, while I think we are faced with exactly the same problem with community support officers, that they are subject to the overall police resource availability. The final point is the community safety accreditation scheme. I have to say, I am not an expert on the Police Reform Act, but it does seem to me that the direction that that particular section of the Act has is very much for reducing crime and disorder, and offers no guarantee to the authorities either that it would be possible to secure such accreditation purely for emission control purposes; or, indeed, whether it would be possible to have such a scheme consistent across London. I think one of the lessons we have learnt through parking enforcement is that there is a great value to be achieved through increasing consistency across London as far as we can. It is much more clear to motorists what is going on.


 
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