The following events took place in a Lambeth Council parking shop just off Streatham High Road. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. This report contains scenes that some readers may find deeply disturbing.
Melinda, a Lambeth resident, has just walked into a stark, white, newly refurbished ‘customer centre’. She is greeted by a dozen service desks, all of which have women sitting idly behind them. She approaches the nearest one.
A frowning cashier warns her to desist from approaching the desk unannounced and tells her that she must take a ticket from the supermarket cheese-counter-style dispenser in the corner. Melinda tries to take a ticket but the machine requires her to enter certain data first. She must tell it whether she has booked an appointment. She selects the button marked ‘No I am a burden on the state and have turned up selfishly without booking’ and a ticket is finally granted. She then goes to the waiting area. Immediately as she sits down a buzzer sounds, her number is called and she is summoned to appear at the very same cashier’s desk where she started.
Melinda: But I just came a minute ago and you said...
Brenda the cashier: You have to get a ticket. I would advise you to sit down now and relax. You look distressed.
Melinda: I am distressed, actually. There’s nowhere to park outside.
Brenda: You should have come at a different time. Between 9 and 9.15 in the morning is best.
M: Well, anyway, I want to renew my residents’ parking permit.
B: Do you have the relevant documentation?
M: Yes. I have brought every document I possess, including my birth certificate.
B: I don’t need all that. I just need a council tax statement, the vehicle registration document, your certificate of motor insurance, your driving licence and your application form...
(There follows 20 minutes of checking) That will be £130 please.
M: What? But it was £60 last year.
B: Yes, it’s gone up.
M: By more than 100 per cent? Can that be right?
B: They changed it. It’s based on emissions now.
M: What do you mean emissions? My car isn’t emitting anything when it’s parked outside my house. It’s parked, you see. Not moving.
M: Look, I already pay £8 a day to drive into London. The emissions are covered. Are you now telling me I also have to pay to stay at home?
B: You’ll have to read the website.
M: But this is daylight robbery. People in this area aren’t rich. How can they afford to pay £130 to park outside their house?
B: Actually, it’s a lot more for a big car.
M: This is insane. Do you know why they are doing this?
B: There’s a hole in the ozone layer.
M: Excuse me?
B: There’s a hole in the ozone layer. Haven’t you heard about it?
M: I think I did hear something about that. In the Eighties. I thought we’d moved on from ozone. I thought we were into global warming now.
B: No. It’s definitely the ozone layer.
M: So how is Lambeth Council going to mend the ozone layer? Apart from putting in place a ‘hole tax’ obviously.
B: I don’t know. You’ll have to read the website.
M: Will I find a full explanation there of how they are spending this extra money?
B: I don’t know. That’ll be £130 please. Actually, I think if you buy a new car that doesn’t have emissions you can get a permit for £110.
M: This is madness. I’m not going to spend £10,000 on a new car to get a £20 a year reduction on my parking permit. Look, the car is parked in Balham. It’s not anywhere near the centre of town where emissions are being targeted.
B: Yes, it is. Balham is central zone.
M: No, it’s not. It’s zone three.
There follows a long pause as both women eye each other suspiciously.
M: How do you feel about paying £130 to park your car outside your house?
B: I don’t pay. I live in Croydon. It’s free in Croydon. You should live there.
M: But I don’t want to live in Croydon.
B: U-huh. I’ll just get your receipt.
M: Well, don’t think you’re safe in Croydon. When they come for your £130 and say it’s for the environment you’ll have wished you stood with the people of Balham.
B: They won’t come to Croydon. Croydon’s too far.
M: You reckon?
B: I’m safe in Croydon. U-huh. Croydon’s a looooong way from London. I don’t pay for my car. You should move to Croydon. Your problem is you live in central zone. It’s expensive.
M: I can see that. Thank you.
B: You’re welcome.
Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.