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Public health, air quality and sustainable transport: a strategic approach to parking charges.

The aim of the proposals is to adjust driver behaviour and to ensure that we can provide a modern, efficient and environmentally sustainable transport policy for residents, visitors, businesses now and in the future.

The proposals seek to achieve efficient and safe movement of traffic and the provision of suitable and adequate parking facilities in the context of the public health agenda, the shift to more active and sustainable transport modes (such as walking, cycling and public transport), the impact of vehicle emissions and congestion on air quality, and demand for kerbside space.


Why we are reviewing parking charges

The Merton parking service already contributes to and helps deliver the key policies set out in Merton's Health and Wellbeing Strategy, Merton's Air Quality Action Plan, the Council's Local Implementation Plan and the Mayor of London's Transport Strategy.

The Mayor of London's key ambition is for London to have the best air quality of any major global city. He wants the quickest progress to be made in the most polluted places, benefitting people most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

Mayor of London Health Inequalities 

Public health considerations

We need to consider what we can do as a borough to 'make the healthy choice the easy and preferable choice', to improve public services and enable residents to choose active travel options more often, and to reduce congestion and improve air quality. Public Health has a vision to protect and improve physical and mental health outcomes for the whole population in Merton throughout the life course, and to reduce health inequalities.

Parking services have a role to play in this, by incentivising residents towards more sustainable and active modes of transport such as walking and cycling, and by reducing congestion and improving air quality.

Annual Public Health Report 2018


Air quality considerations

Air pollution is recognised as a major contributor to poor health, with more than 9,000 premature deaths attributed to poor air quality in London. Air pollution is associated with a number of adverse health impacts; it is recognised as a contributing factor in the onset of heart disease and cancer, and studies suggest it may be associated with cognitive ageing. Air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and anyone with long term health conditions. Merton consulted on and has adopted a new Air Quality Action Plan, this covers a number of important measures to tackle toxic air in the borough. We know that road traffic and private car use is a major contributor to poor air quality. As a borough we need to use all the policy levers available to us to tackle this public health problem, this includes the use of the parking agenda.


Helping to deliver parking and transport management policy

Parking controls are an integral part of the council's overall transport strategy and the success of other transport policies depends on them. The council has traditionally set parking restrictions and charges to manage demand and enable a more effective management of the kerbside for residents, businesses and visitors alike. This is necessary to balance the finite supply of available spaces for an ever-increasing range of pedestrians, cyclists, bus users, motorcyclists, delivery drivers, taxis and other users.


Factors we considered

We considered a number of key factors when reviewing parking charges:

Improving public health and air quality

  • 6.5% of mortality in Merton is attributable to the harm caused by poor air quality, equivalent to around 75 deaths every year. By helping to reduce vehicle emissions and supporting the shift to more sustainable and active transport modes, parking policy can help improve air quality which in turn will have positive benefits for people's health.
  • Exposure to poor air quality is associated with a range of cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular health effects and improving Londoners' access to clean air is a major objective in the Mayor's Health Inequalities Strategy.
  • Childhood obesity:
    In Merton, one in five children entering reception are overweight or obese and this increases to one in three children leaving primary school in Year 6. Parking charges are one of the ways we can encourage more walking and cycling.
  • Adult Sedentary behaviour:
    In Merton, the level of physical activity has dropped in recent years and Department for Transport statistics for 2016/17 show the proportion of adults doing any walking or cycling once a week has declined since 2015/16.
  • Other benefits:
    If every Londoner walked or cycled for 20 minutes each day this would save the NHS £1.7 bn in treatment costs over 25 years, and high street walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30%.


How easy it is to access to public transport

  • Transport for London have graded public transport services for each area of London down to a local level. This is known as 'Public Transport Accessibility Levels' or (PTAL).
  • It is considered easier in principle for a person living near good transport links to need a car less than residents in parts of the borough where public transport is less accessible.
  • We are keen to promote increased walking and cycling, (known as active transport) and of course greater use of public transport. However we acknowledge cars are convenient in some cases particularly for those with physical mobility issues. We will continue to work closely with 'car club' companies, (particularly electric car hire) to promote occasional use or hire instead of car ownership.
  • Charges near good transport links have as a principle been set higher than areas less well served by public transport.


Areas of high congestion, parking demand and space availability

  • The demand for parking spaces varies within the borough, from hour to hour, day to day and seasonally. Detailed surveys took place, which identified hot spots and areas of over demand.
  • The higher the demand for a parking space the greater the congestion caused, which has a direct effect on vehicle emissions and air quality.
  • Our aim is for motorists who wish to park on High Streets in the busiest areas of the boroughs, to consider using a local car park instead, or park further away in a less congested area and walk. Alternatively, preferably use public transport, walk or cycle.
  • In charging a premium price to park in hot spots, and charge a lesser amount in car parks and areas away from the town centre high street, we hope to 'nudge' drivers away from the congested areas.


When charges were last increased

Parking and permit charges have not been reviewed for a number of years: in the case of permits not since 2009, and car park season tickets not since 2005. By not increasing charges over a longer period, the cost of parking has in fact reduced in real terms, due to inflation. Although some could see this as a good thing, it means drivers are more likely to use their cars, instead of public transport or walking, which adds to the congestion and air quality problems we are trying to tackle.


Other measures being taken to support these policies

We are not doing this is on our own. These proposals are part of a much bigger picture. Improving the public's health and combating air pollution are key priorities across the UK and London. From Central Government to the Mayor for London and Merton's own decision makers, we must all do our part.

Mayor's Transport Strategy

In conjunction with the Mayors Transport Strategy, which is produced by Transport for London, a key theme is the 'The Healthy Streets Approach'. This includes the ambitious targets of ensuring that all Londoners get the 20 minutes of exercise needed each day to be considered 'healthy' from their transport choice alone and; that 80% of trips are undertaken by walking, cycling or public transport, both by 2041. Achieving these goals will require fundamental changes to the mobility fabric of London.

Mayor's Health Inequalities Strategy

This includes ambitions for London's air quality to improve, and for fewer Londoners to be exposed to harmful pollution, particularly in priority areas such as schools. It also includes ambitions for the planning system to adopt the Healthy Streets Approach to make it easier for people to walk and cycle in streets.

The report states, 'Poor air quality is linked to many health problems including lung and heart diseases and is particularly harmful to the lungs of young children. People in deprived areas are more likely to be exposed to poor air quality and that exposure is also more likely to result in poor health. Worryingly over 400 London primary schools are in areas with toxic air, with four-fifths of these in the most deprived areas.'

London Councils

Another key partner 'London Councils' also produced in 2018 a comprehensive policy report called 'Benefits of Parking Management in London August 2018' and again addressed many of these key principles.

Benefits of Parking Management in London - August 2018

The report states, 'The private car is widely accepted to be the least sustainable mode of travel. This is principally because it is more polluting and takes up more space per user than every other mainstream mode of surface transport.

'Limiting car use and therefore restricting the demand for parking is not only good for the economy and the environment, there is increasing evidence that alternative forms of travel make us happier and healthier too.'

Merton Local Implementation Plan (LIP)

Merton's Local Implementation Plan (LIP) continues this strategic theme and applies them at a local level. This document sets out our approach to:

  • developing the "healthy streets and healthy people" agenda
  • a good public transport system
  • cycle routes and cycle parking
  • car clubs
  • electric charging bays
  • maintaining and improving open and green spaces
  • making Merton's streets safer

School Neighbourhood Approach Pilot (SNAP)

Example of healthy places and the role parking services can play: Parking Services are already working jointly with Public Health on the School Neighbourhood Approach Pilot (SNAP). This pilot recognises that there is not one solution to complex challenges and that many different government departments hold the levers to improving the urban environment and therefore the public's health. The pilot involves identifying the potential the Council has to improve the urban environment in the 400 metres around a school, and then working with a selected school and local people and business to take action on issues that matter to them, such as air quality and a healthy environment, with the ultimate aim of reducing health inequalities.

We need to consider what we can do as a borough to 'make the healthy choice the easy choice', to improve public services and encourage residents to choose active travel options more often, and to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

Car Clubs in Merton

Car clubs can provide you with a safer, cleaner and cheaper way of accessing a car when you need one, without all the cost or hassle of owning one yourself. Merton is aiming to ensure that every resident has access to car club vehicles. You can find car club cars parked on-street throughout Merton.

There are three types of car clubs in Merton: round-trip (or station-based), one-way (or flexible) and point-to-point. With round-trip car clubs you need to return vehicles to their original parking bay when you have finished using them. With one-way car clubs you can pick up and drop off a vehicle at any authorised parking space within the scheme's operating area, and find vehicles via an app. With point-to-point car clubs you can pick a car and return to a destination parking space rather than to base.

There are approximately 193,500 car club members in London, and currently three car club providers in Merton. Transport for London (TfL) has committed to aiming for one million members by 2025. Most members hire cars for leisure purposes, while only a small minority use car clubs for commuting. They offer a convenient and affordable service, while at the same time reducing overall car usage – which can help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.


What we will do with the extra money

When setting charges, local authorities must focus on how the charges will contribute to delivering the Council's traffic management and key sustainability objectives. Councils are not permitted to use parking charges solely to raise income.

Importantly the rules allow councils to use income from parking charges on Air Quality management and works within the Borough. Also £9.5m of parking income contributes to the Freedom Pass managed by Transport for London.

In addition, money from parking charges contributes to carriageway and footway maintenance, highway works such as potholes and winter gritting, the design and management of controlled parking zones and other schemes such as road safety and traffic and parking management


How we will measure success

Ultimately, the outcome we are aiming for is improved health and wellbeing of our residents, visitors and those who work in the borough. We know this will take time and effort from many other organisations. Merton are however committed to do what we can. There are some things we can measure to make sure we focus on developing a more sustainable transport strategy over the coming years, which include:

  • Reduction in congested areas of our high streets
  • Reduction in CPZs / permits issued, including visitor permits, including:
    • Reduction in multiple permits sold to the same house
  • Reduction in the number of season tickets sold
  • Investment in infrastructure and sustainable transport solutions:
    • Number of additional electric charging bays
    • Number of additional cycle routes
    • Number of additional cycle parking facilities
  • Greater use of public transport journeys within the borough
  • Increase in the number of 'active transport' activity in the borough:
    • Number of walking journeys in the borough
    • Number of cycling journeys in the borough
  • Public health:
    • Along with air quality a key objective is to contribute towards improved public health of Merton and London's residents. There are many factors beyond our control but we are committed to working with colleagues in Public Health and shall monitor progress.


Comparison of charges with other boroughs

Merton is very aware of the financial challenges facing many of its residents and visitors to the borough. The proposed charges took into consideration the charges of neighbouring boroughs. In all cases including permits, paid-for parking and season tickets, Merton's charges can be considered average and on a par with other outer London boroughs, with central London boroughs being more expensive.

Other boroughs have more recently introduced a diesel levy and emission-based charging to dissuade unnecessary car journeys and car ownership.


Report to councillors

The report below has been presented to the Cabinet, and to the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel.

Report: Public Health, Air Quality and Sustainable Transport - a Strategic Approach to Parking Charges


Consultation process and next steps

We have used My Merton magazine (March edition) to bring the proposed changes to the attention of all residents across Merton.

We will also write directly to statutory bodies such as the Police, along with interested bodies such as residents associations and business groups.

Once all comments have been received, a report will be written detailing any representations and comments made. This report will be considered at a Cabinet meeting at which councillors will make a final decision in the summer.


Related issues that are not in this consultation

We are considering the following three issues separately, and they are not covered by this consultation.

1. Virtual parking permits

The council is committed to the introduction of virtual Permits and visitor Permits. This is where a physical permit is not required to be displayed in a vehicle, but instead the Civil Enforcement Officer will know though his or her handheld device that the vehicle has a valid virtual permit that is stored on the parking system. Although this is not possible at the present time; the council is currently procuring a new permit system which will be in place in 2019.

2. Emissions-based charging

Many other authorities have already introduced charges based on the level of emissions a vehicle gives out. This is calculated in a similar way to your car tax and is accepted as a logical and sensible method.

Emission-based charging will be considered along with a review of the diesel levy, with a report being presented to councillors in autumn 2019 for consideration.

This will include permits and for one-off paid for parking transactions, i.e., parking for an hour in a local car park as well as permits. This would require greater use of technology including cashless parking. We currently use RingGo. The use of 'intelligent' pay and display machines, which can identify the emissions of a vehicle, based on a vehicle registration will also be considered.

3. Diesel levy

We took the decision to introduce the diesel levy surcharge in 2016. The emissions from diesel engines are known to be particularly harmful. The diesel levy along with emission-based charging will be considered. A report will be presented to councillors in autumn 2019 for consideration.

Since the introduction in Merton, a number of other London boroughs have followed Merton's lead with the aim of reducing diesel car use. Currently the diesel levy is only charged on permits, but consideration will be given to extending this to pay and display parking and season tickets.