|Portsmouth's bad deal on roads - a need to rationalise|
The private finance initiative which Portsmouth entered into in 2005 with Colas is worth some £500 million over 25 years (23% paid by local council & 77% by central government) requires that Colas maintains and manages Portsmouth’s road network including major roadworks, drain maintenance, skip licenses and mowing verges. The inventory is some 480km of roads, some 16,000 street lights and 84 highway structures. Colas has divided these operations into four areas of capital works (maintaining the surfaces of roads and pavements), street lighting (maintaining all lights on roads and pavements), highway maintenance (looking after everything else to do with the roads), and network services (co-ordinating with other organisations and issuing licences).
| Go undergound...|
Removing parking space from the surface and multi-level above ground facilities relieves roadways so as to improve flow and safety. Undergound facilities provide a safer environemnt for parked cars in terms of weathering and accidents. In the spaces created by under gound parking the ground surface can be populated by appropriate housing, more spatious walk and road ways, parks and more greenery and a return of gardens. No more parking zones, no more permits, no more dropped curbs.
Was this a priority?
In relation to the roads in Portsmouth and, in particular, those on Portsea Island, one of the main priorities for an Island City is to avoid congestion caused by the increased usage of cars. This evolving crisis has been apparent for well over 50 years and the conditions simply get worse all the time. One of the causes of this negative impact of car usage has been the unwillingness of the planning authorities to acknowledge that Portsea Island has a limited areas of land and relatively fixed infrastructure of roadways running between established residential areas. Therefore, for Planning Committees to uphold unrealistic housing unit densities without requiring adequate on-site parking, only imposes on the people of Portsmouth, increasing the number of cars parked on roads in residential and commercial areas, few of which have sufficient space for immediate residents. As described in another article, the out-of-control growth in higher density of housing units combined with car ownership has resulted in dangerous road conditions. Many roads which are the equivalent of three car widths, have cars parked down both sides and traffic movement relying solely upon the willingness of drivers to allow others to pass in the opposite direction in intermittant ad hoc one way movements. The crowding of cars down both sides of road reduces the visibility of roads, especially for small children, as well as for motorists entering such roads. The introduction of the 20 mph speed limit in some zones is "sold" as a "safety consicious government" when in fact this back-to-front initiative only highlights the failure of urban planning in Portsmouth to work within existing physical constraints in a safe way.
The requirement has always been that Portsmouth, as a largely Island City, requires a systems approach to planning which trades off living, commercial and green space requirements and the growth in numbers of cars against systems for the provision of parking which maintain or increase the free road space for the unhindered and safe movement of vehicles. However, the priority in terms of usage of urban space should always be the residents and perdestrians by upholding living amenity, convenience and standards of safety.
Effective decision analysis for an environment like Portsa Island needs to look at all options for vehicular parking. This means that the topic of parking needs to look at all of the options including multistorey, ground level plots and below ground options. On an Island like Portsea it is evident that multistorey and grouns level plots compete for two-dimensional space directly will all other land occupation options including open space, green areas, roadways, housing and commercial areas. In many small European cities road clutter even in peak holiday seasons catering for tourists, solutions are found in undergound parking so as not to disturb the existing amenity of houses and buildings. Today the technologies for constructing underground covered parking ebnble relatively rapid construction and such parks are either placed on a new sites, under roadways and even under parks.
Getting the priorities right
Currently, and indeed for perhaps 20 years, Portsea Island has suffered from a lack of strategic vision in the sense that planning has been seen to be following central government statutes rather than introducing a stratgic vision for the growth of a healthy economy and pleasant Island. The most over-bearing problems of the residents of Portsea Island are not roadworks, drain maintenance, skip licenses, mowing verges, maintaining road and pavement lights and surfaces. The major issue facing Portsea Islanders is that the failure to insist on parking provisions for high density housing has exacerbated the vicious cycle of excess cars on open roads creating traffic chaos and falling safety standards for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The associated decline in amenity in the areas suffering the impositon of high density housing, primarily related to parking chaos but also in many cases to social problems, is leading to a relative decline in the valuations of existing housing stock in the the areas affected. As a result, irresponsible planning decisions are depressing the ability of Portsea Island residents to sustain their real worth by being forced into a position of sub prime status. These are important problems requiring that they top the City's strategic priorities for a solution. Clearly the City for some time now, should have been arguing the case that Portsea island is a special case, in fact unique in the UK, so as to relieve the City of this ridiculous burden of an increasing car population and statis parking provisions. But all represenrtatives be they councillors or Mps of any poltiical party, have failed to stand with the residents on this fundamental issue. Given that representatives have taken up a fatalistic position of abandonment of responsbility under the the guise of following due process and "applying planning statutes" then the strategy of the City should have at least been to proactively invest in sound alterantives for parking which remove the antagonism between gound level and multistorey parking. The only option is to invest in undergound galleries and car parking facilities. With respect to Portsea Island, there should have been as by-law that any housing project with more than four units should be required to have a below ground parking facility capable of holding up to at least 2 cars per unit. For larger constructions the car holding capacity per unit could be increased so as to provide relief parking facilities for the immediate locality.
Fiscal austerity - a justification for improving our circumstances
The current state of fiscal austerity which will continue at least for the next five years provides Portsmouth with a opportunity to redirect the PPP monies from a "maintenance" activity into a capital expenditure capable of increasing the amenity of the Island, reduce the burden of traffic chaos on residents and business and improve traffic flow and road safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. It can also assist resident claw back some of the losses imposed upon them as a result of valuation depreciations. It is worth asking why the City should not consider this as a productive proposal as a capital investment more worthy of the monies of the PPP than the current activities. A good proposal for government proving more effective use of public funds. On the other hand if additional funds can be found, difficult under the current circumstanmces, then this would be a further option. In practical terms it would seem to be more prudent to transfer funds across in investments in undergound parking facilities.