The fight to curb footway parking – but are our schools the biggest loser?

Seen by many as a scourge to accessibility and safety – footway parking yet again faces scrutiny following the announcement by the Local Government Association (LGA) that councils across England and Wales should be given new powers to outlaw the widespread practice.

The argument against parking on footways is largely irrefutable. Forcing pedestrians to step into the road and restricting passage for those with mobility issues is a problem that needs to be addressed. It is almost certain that withdrawing responsibilities currently held by the police to tackle the issue and shifting the onus onto local authorities may enable more feasible enforcement of restrictions. Yet there are wider issues which need to be considered before any changes are introduced; not least those presented by our schools.

The daily operation of local schools is a delicate eco-system of transport; a cyclical rhythm established over years which can be severely impacted by even a small disruption in the surrounding highway network. The ambitious programme of school growth and development enabled by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and local authorities, though necessary, frequently undermines this stability and creates a demand for innovative and effective transport planning as parental parking during peak times becomes an increasingly critical issue in local communities as existing schools swell.

Particularly in urban and suburban schools, this parking demand far exceeds the provision afforded on-site by the schools, and as such the surrounding highway network bears the brunt of this excess demand in the form of on-street parking. A significant proportion of this parking will invariably use footways, often due to restrictive carriageway dimensions, and as pupil numbers increase therefore so does the demand for this potentially disruptive form of on-street parking.

Arguably there remains a case for responsible footway parking – where the width of the footway allows, or demand is only very short-term parking along low-trafficked and traffic calmed roads may provide a case whereby practicality outweighs safety concerns. Any number of signs or markings could help facilitate such an arrangement, though the resources required to monitor and enforce the system may prove challenging. The case for safety is also paramount when concerning children, no matter how minor risks may seem.

Therein lies the subsequent challenge for local authorities: balancing the natural requirement for local parking during peak school hours alongside the need for safety and accessibility, all while considering the context of expanding local schools.

Though a difficult issue to address, it is important the schools work in co-ordination with local authorities to actively tackle the problem before their day-to-day operation comes under threat. The implementation of effective Travel Plans is one of a series of measures which can help reduce the need for on-street parking, and encouraging sustainable travel though clear communication with parents is essential. Facilitating those difficult steps to a change in school-run mentality may be a huge task, but it may also be the only long-term solution.