Garage Collapse, Poor Management and a Parking Code
It’s that time of year when absolutely nothing happens. You will read this in October, but deadlines being deadlines, I am writing this in late summer here in the UK when the rain is still warm and kids are out of school and, it seems, everyone has gone away for a few weeks.
One thing that has disturbed my tranquility, and that of several other people, was the sudden partial collapse of a multi-story carpark in Nottingham, UK.
The garage, owned by National Car Parks (NCP) – which was sold earlier this year to a Japanese consortium by Australian bank Macquarie – had part of its front façade fall off during the night of Aug. 19.
Although damage to the building was considerable, and several cars were left hanging, no one was injured and, apparently, few vehicles were damaged. The collapsed portion fell across the access ramps, but once everyone was satisfied it was safe, all remaining vehicles in the garage were evacuated.
NCP, which once dominated the UK off-street parking market with an estimated 85% share, has a history with structural problems in its carparks. Back in 1997, its Parkers Row carpark in Wolverhampton also suffered an overnight partial collapse of its top deck, again with no casualties, and the whole building was subsequently demolished.
This led to a great deal of smoke and a little fire with all sorts of enquiries and committees being set up and, to its credit, NCP set up a formal “life care program” for its properties. Meaning that, I believe, all carparks were subjected to a regular rigorous formal inspection by qualified engineers.
Rumour on the street is that this Nottingham collapse was another case of poor construction, but I guess that there will have to be another enquiry with a portentous tome to follow before anything is known.
Meanwhile, those engineers who have been carrying out the safety checks on behalf of NCP are not going to have a good few weeks, I suspect.
Quite apart from the five minutes on the evening news, this does raise, once again, the very serious issue of UK carpark structural integrity and public safety. They are unusual structures – the nearest equivalent is a road bridge – and very few engineers really understand how they work.
Despite this, here in the UK, there are no rules about the care and maintenance of these buildings, even though industry experts have long called for a statutory code. This can only raise the question once again, but, I suspect, nothing will be done until someone is actually killed in a collapse.
I often “witter on” about the bugger’s mess that is parking management on private land here in the UK. We have a generic problem in places such as town center stores and hospitals if there isn’t some form of management. The parking is swamped by people with no reason to be there, and the shop or hospital can’t work.
The nature of these sites means that it would be hard to put a barrier in place, and that any ticket-based system inevitably throws up injustices.
Retailers who should know better often “get in” a parking company and give it total control. The parking company then tickets legitimate customers, which is madness. Who is going to use a store if staying on and spending more money gets them a $100 parking fine? It’s not working, and each year, hundreds of thousands of “customers” are getting fined for shopping.
It’s even worse in hospitals, where even though patients have timed appointments of a known duration, they have no control over what happens after they walk through the door. Doctors dealing with complex conditions can often be an hour late and then require tests that double or triple appointment durations. It is completely unacceptable to me that anyone getting medical treatment should be penalized because the doctor is running late, and yet this is happening tens of thousands of times every year. It needs fixing.
So, imagine my surprise when the government announced “The Parking (Code of Practice) Bill” in July. In Britain, when a new law is proposed, it is published as a draft, which is debated and amended in both houses of Parliament before getting the Royal Assent, that is, the formal agreement and signing by the Queen that makes it law. (Not a lot of people know, but the formal law is still written on sheepskin parchment and within Parliament, all UK law is still available in scrolls.)
I had hoped to tell you what wonderful and ground-breaking new ideas were in the bill, but all we have so far is a bald statement that it is “A Bill to make provision for and in connection with a code of practice containing guidance about the operation and management of private parking facilities; and for connected purposes.”
Now, would I be too cynical to say that the brevity of this statement equates to “something must be done but we haven’t the faintest idea what”?
I notice from the parliamentary website (services.parliament.UK/bills) that the debate on the bill won’t start until February 2018. Or not.
There is a small matter of a process known colloquially as Brexit – it’s not going well. We are about 25% of the way through the timescale and about 1% toward an agreeable solution.
Johnny Foreigner on the other side, having told the UK on day one what the rules are, quite unreasonably seems to be getting a little frustrated when, having been told no trade negotiations until other stuff is settled, the UK team tabled a paper on trade relations at the next meeting. How unreasonable!
Why does this affect what will happen in Parliament? To ensure continuity, the government has put forward a “Great Repeal Bill,” which basically takes the last 45 years of EU law that applies to the UK and re-writes domestic law so that it becomes part of our legislation. Every single word, comma and dot in these 45 years of legislation is going to be debated and argued over by the Members of Parliament, most of whom see “Brexit” as a disaster in the offing. (It will be messy, especially when led by a Prime Minister who is a serial under-achiever.)