On-Street Parking Permits for Students in Cambridge

On Wednesday the 23rd of February 2011 the Cambridge News ran an article on problems with students parking in Guest Road, Cambridge. The article contained a quote from a Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman who was reported as saying:

The council does not issue parking permits to students and if we find out a student has one it will be withdrawn.

The vast majority of students in Cambridge cannot obtain parking permits because they live in properties which are not eligible for them. Only those living on certain properties, on roads with residents parking schemes can have parking permits. I was not previously aware of any county council policy or practice which expressly directly discriminated against students simply as a consequence of them being students and I think such taking such a position is wrong.

Presuming the spokesman had mis-spoken, or the Cambridge-News had fully reported on what was said, I sought clarification from the County Council via twitter. I was shocked to see the County Council not only stand by their response, but go much further:

@RTaylorUK @mgzs180 as reported by the media, the ban on university students having cars in city is imposed by the universities themselves

Uni rules ban students having cars in the city. Therefore we do not knowingly issue permits to students (and would withdraw them)

Astonished by this I raised the matter during the “open forum” the West / Central area committee on the 24th of February.

I explained what had been said in the Cambridge-News, and what the County Council had said when I tried to follow it up with them. I told councillors that I would illustrate the problem with a blanket ban on issuing parking permits to students giving by giving an admittedly extreme example of a Cambridge resident holding a parking permit becoming an Open University student and under the County Council’s stated “policy” facing the withdrawal of their parking permit if the County Council found out they had become a student.

I also explained that I was very worried by the County Council seeking to enforce university rules. I told the committee many of the University of Cambridge’s rules were utterly bizarre, and illustrated this with the example of graduate students over the age of 24 being exempt from the university’s “regulations for motor vehicles”, while younger researchers were subject to them . (S.3(d)). I noted at least one member of the committee would be aware of the absurdities as they are been involved in the operation of the rules. (Cllr Smith is a Graduate Tutor at Robinson College).

I asked for councillors to urge the County Council to back down from its ludicrous blanket ban, and for a them to push the County Council to seek a the publication of a clarification of the position in the Cambridge News (perhaps via a letter).

Councillor Responses

Cllr Rosensteil replied first; he spoke about the within fact that ARU and Cambridge University, according to the university rules student cars ownership was under “proctorial control”. The then went on to the even more tangental point that the City Council has garages to-let near East Road, before stating that if the students living on his street had cars and parked them on the street there wouldn’t be enough space.

Cllr Julie Smith raised her hand and was acknowledged by the chair.

Cllr Brooks-Gordon spoke next. While noting the problems arising from students with cars she agreed with me that the County Council shouldn’t be getting into enforcement of the University’s rules. She agreed to seek clarification of the County Council’s statements via either a written or oral question. She said she didn’t want me to criticise the way she was to follow this up so would follow it up via whatever route I suggested she should follow.

City Council leader Cllr Sian Reid said she worked for the Open University and that it would be “absolutely absurd” if the County Council were operating a blanket ban on all students.

Cllr Simon Kightley, the meeting’s chair proposed getting the City Council to write to the County Council, seeking an explanation of their statements. The committee agreed and resolved to ask their committee manager to write and send such a letter. I was very pleased with the way my question had been handled and the fact it prompted action from councillors.

Cllr Smith never did make a contribution to the discussion (the comments are open below should she wish to share her thoughts now).

East Area Committee

This matter had been first raised a week or so before the Cambridge-News article at the East Area committee on the 10th of February which I observed. Residents of Guest Road (Off Mill Road near the ARU Campus) attended and described how they believed that visitor permits were being abused, they called for action on that, and an investigation into if any fraud was involved. From what was described it sounded as if one or two individuals were seriously breaking the rules of the parking scheme.

I tweeted, and Andy Bower who was also in the public seating re-tweeted, from the East Area meeting commenting on the shocking degree of anti-student; and anti- young professionals venom which came from both councillors and members of the public present. This was sparked by, but not directly related to, the issue of parking on Guest Road.

My View

There is a democratic deficit, and a lack of localism, here as control of the Cambridge’s on-street parking has recently been moved from the City Council to the County Council. This means that ultimately decisions are taken by representatives of those who live outside the city, by the Conservatives running the County Council. I think this kind of parking policy question should be dealt with at a more local level.

I am terrified by the prospect of the city and county council enforcing university rules. Those wishing to study or carry our research at Cambridge University have to submit themselves irrational and draconian rules, many of which are inconsistently enforced. That situation is bad enough given the public funding which goes into the university, but to have the councils putting their weight behind their nonsense is alarming. Sometimes when the University or Colleges discipline people they seek to ban them from the City itsself (See: Para (q) & Para 1); I wouldn’t want to see the City and County Councils starting to try and help them try and enforce that for example. There is a very steep and slippery slope here which must be avoided.

I think the Cambridge is treating graduate researchers terribly when we should be welcoming them. The City Council has been wrongly persecuting some through the courts for council tax they don’t owe, and now the County Council is denying parking permits even if they rent or own a property which would otherwise be eligible for them.

Some students, such as disabled students, those who commute daily to work outside Cambridge eg. at the Babraham Institute are permitted cars by the universities. Very few of these will be living in properties eligible for parking permits, but those who do surely should not be denied them.

The fact ARU and Cambridge University have their own internal rules restricting student car use and the fact a bike is a lot cheaper and often more practical than a car in Cambridge keep the number of students with cars in Cambridge low; a blanket ban is an over-reaction, and an inappropriate reaction, to a specific problem that was raised.

I still expect, and am hoping for, a rapid retraction, and admission that their spokesman mis-spoke. This ought occur as soon as someone at Cambridgeshire County Council with some common sense takes a look into this.

5 responses to “On-Street Parking Permits for Students in Cambridge”

  1. Oliver Stanton has provided the following image of the application form for a parking permit:

    Parking permit app Q asking about student status

    I responded to say: “interesting they’re asking but answers ought be irrelevant to issuing of permit.”

  2. I will send a tweet to Cllr @BelindaBG saying I don’t mind if she progresses this via an oral question or a written one. I suspect she half remembered the Conservative party criticising her fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Pellew for making FOI requests rather than using internal procedures available to him for asking questions, and wanted to avoid that kind of thing again. (Personally I think Cllr Pellew was and is perfectly entitled to make FOI requests if he sees fit).

    I have already made a FOI request, in public, via WhatDoTheyKnow, which ought result in the release of relevant material:


    The lack of an immediate response perhaps suggests there is confusion.

    Last year I got only a partial answer to a related request about exactly how the County Council is operating on-street parking asking for a list of exempted properties, and classes of individuals given permits despite not living in eligible properties:


  3. Having lived in an area with parking controls and a large student population I would be interested to hear from you on how on-street parking should be regulated? or maybe it should be on the basis that the devil takes the hindmost? Also what is your opinion on the council handing out permits to nearby shop workers?

  4. Geoff,

    The first thing to stress is that this draconian blanket ban on parking permits for students; including disabled students and Cambridge home owners who become Open University students, and disabled students is new. It’s an over-reaction to the problems being experienced. My article was focusing on this change and not on parking policy in general.

    I don’t think we should specifically discriminate against students in this city. The vast majority of students living in colleges, or residences, just like other residents who live in flats or certain new homes will not be entitled to on street parking permits. When people own or rent a home on a street which is eligible for parking permit or permits then the council ought offer those irrespective of if the residents happen to be students. I certainly don’t think we should separate graduate researchers working towards PhDs from graduates working in other professions (and I’ve written elsewhere how I would like to see those working towards PhDs employed, rather than treated as students). So I certainly don’t support what the county council says it is currently doing. However we tackle problems with parking in Cambridge the County Council specifically targeting students in this way, just because they are students, shouldn’t be part of the answer.

    Overall the regulation of parking cannot be looked at alone, it’s closely linked with transport policy more generally, as well as pressures such as the growth of the city and how people use their cars. As I’ve said I wouldn’t have expanded the city in the way the Liberal Democrats have done, and are continuing to do.

    I think students are only a significant pressure on on-street parking in one or two small areas. Much bigger causes of problems are those who for example commute out of Cambridge station, and park in the Rustat Road area, or those who work in Shire Hall parking in the near-by streets, or those using the De Frevillve estate area to park while working in the City Centre. Near Hills Road Sixth Form College pupils parking in the residential areas puts pressure on the available spaces.

    My view is the council ought only introduce residents parking schemes where absolutely necessary. I think Cambridge has been very unimaginative in terms of the restrictions it does impose; and in many places less restrictive residents parking hours could have the desired effect. eg. no non-resident parking between 14.00 and 15.00 is an effective way of preventing commuter parking on a street, and enabling enforcement, while minimally inconveniencing visitors.

    I think the Liberal Democrat policy of massively restricting the number of parking spaces available on new builds, especially flats, exacerbates parking problems. I think the focus has to be on encouraging alternative forms of travel, ways of working, rather than trying to make it difficult for people to use cars. I think the approach ought be more pro-alternatives than simply anti-car as it is now.

    I think we need to be better as a society at making hire car schemes more attractive, dealing better with things that currently deter their use such as high insurance excesses and insurance disputes. Making public transport, as well as walking and cycling safer and more practical is important too if we’re going to reduce car use.

    With thousands of student hall spaces for ARU students to be built as part of the CB1 development; we may well see a shift in the ARU student population moving from residential streets in the Romsey areas into the CB1 development and reducing the pressure on parking in the streets off Mill Road. Other proposed developments such as the Chesterton Station also have the potential to relieve parking pressure in parts of the city.

    At the moment from the County Council’s published information an individual (and household) can have as many parking permits, and visitor permits as they like. That I think is unusually liberal. It would be interesting to see statistics on the number of individuals holding various multiples of permits, and on visitor permit use. I think that greater transparency there might inform residents about what is going on and provide them evidence on which to lobby councillors for changes which curb the abuses of the current system. I’m all for as liberal a system as possible, but the current scheme is open to abuse by selfish individuals and unfortunately some people do put their own interests before the interests of the wider public, or even their neighbours.

    As my FOI requests show there are other areas where I think the council should be more open about how it is operating the parking permits scheme; I think the permits for businesses is certainly an area where the council ought publish the reasons why each permit has been issued so we can understand how the council interpret “essential to the running of a business”.

  5. The County Council have responded to my FOI request and have confirmed they have no policy under which they ought be preventing students from obtaining parking permits, or taking permits away from those they find to be students.

    The council wrote:

    we cannot refuse to issue nor rescind a permit because the applicant is a student.

    I think it is now really important that a correction is issued; prominently, in the Cambridge News.

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