First came the white boxes with their glinting red reflective stripes. Their arrival, so silent and enigmatic, suggested Steven Spielberg might be involved, or perhaps those people who put the "spudniks" on the bus shelters on route 48. Then came the upright black poles and the Event Zone banners, initially foretelling a new parking regime from 21st June. The signage lashed to lamp posts saying "authorised permits only, 8 am - 9 pm" is of a lightweight construction suggesting impermanence and yet, perhaps predictably, some local motorists suspect a devious Council plot to deprive them of their parking rights forever.
The story hit the Gazette last month and was later covered by East London Lines: local motorists were "furious," they were "appalled" and so on. And you can see why they might have had suspicions. A statutory order required to implement the Olympic parking restrictions published in Hackney Today (18 June edition, see page 31) has the word "experimental' in its heading and says at point 2 that the reason for the "experimental" order is to "assess the effects" of a permit-only parking zone "before consideration is given to whether the provisions...should be made permanent." Point 4 adds that the "experimental provisions" can remain in place for 18 months, "before a permanent order is considered."
However, the Council has re-confirmed to me today that the Olympics restrictions will all be lifted after 9th September, the day the Paralympics and hence the whole "Games Time" period comes to an end. Whilst accepting that the statutory order had the potential to cause alarm, they explained that such orders are standard local government issue and the precise wording is beyond their control.
Had the word "temporary" been available instead of "experimental," I suppose most of this parking rage could have been avoided. But if this has been a kerfuffle about nothing, it has raised once again the vexed issue of kerb space management and the broader one of people's reliance on motor vehicles.
What is the right approach for the Council to take? They tell me that quite separately from the issue of the Olympic restrictions - which were actually the requirement of Games organisers Locog - they intend to consult residents and businesses in some specific areas about the effects on them of living and working next to a controlled parking zone (CPZ) in the borough, one of which already covers part of Clapton (see the blue area marked "N").
Put simply, pressure on parking space can get worse in areas just outside a CPZ because motorists without permits park in their streets instead. Restrictions create both winners and losers, and a balance has to be found. Any car-owner living near the Pond will be tooth-grindingly familiar with the nuisance of being unable to park in their own streets - the Games Time permit system will surely suit at least some of them just fine, and it will be interesting to see if local opinion changes. Yet people who live some distance outside the area but run local shops, cafes and other businesses need somewhere to leave their cars too.
Local shops also worry that greater restrictions mean they lose trade. Abdullah from Palm 2 is quoted in East London Lines: “If parking permits become permanent, it will effect my business a lot. This has become an area where people can come and sit, relax and have a cup of coffee. Now they may think about going somewhere else.”
The nearest thing to an ideal solution I can come up with is for more people to conclude that they can do without a car at all, and even benefit from it. Each time I witness a farcical traffic snarl up in, for example, the crossroads by Millfields school, the arguments for walking or catching a bus instead seem increasingly irresistible.
Of course, some people couldn't manage without one, but I've recently discovered that I can. Coincidentally, I got rid of my car shortly before the new restrictions began to come into effect and so far haven't missed it one bit. Not having to worry about where I'm going to park the thing - or where I'd parked it the last time I'd used it - has been just one of the plus points. And I still shop as much as ever at Palm 2.