Opinion: Big Brother’s coming to your People Friendly Streets

DO you, like me, worry about the Big Brother tendency in British society, particularly in the midst of all these COVID diktats?
I’m not saying that restrictions to quash the pandemic aren’t needed, just that I can’t quite believe how meek and mild we lovers of liberty are in accepting the increasingly confused authoritarianism of a plainly incompetent government.
And it was in this somewhat jaundiced frame of mind that I logged in to the Salisbury area board’s discussion of our forthcoming People Friendly Streets scheme on Thursday.
A “mini-Holland” was how Wiltshire officers described the shift they envisage towards a more environmentally friendly future.
What’s not to like about that?
Well, at a pinch I could put up with the inconvenience of having to apply for a permit to get from Exeter Street into Catherine Street every time I want to unload a few bags at Mencap.
But I probably won’t bother. I’ll just head up to the Trussell Trust at Bemerton Heath. I imagine they’ll be inundated!
City centre residents will need permits to access the central low traffic zone as well as the paid-for permits already required to park near their homes. Cameras will recognise their vehicles and let them through the ‘bus gate’ checkpoints. Presumably, they’ll have no spur-of-the-moment guests dropping in, since visitors’ cars will apparently need permits, too, which implies a degree of premeditation.
Builders, plumbers, wedding parties and funeral guests will all need to apply.
And however much Wiltshire promises a ‘light touch’ in policing Blue Badge holders, especially those who come from elsewhere for a day out when no-one’s told them that the rules have changed, I foresee a bureaucrats’ paradise. Some much-needed job creation, perhaps?
Permits are blessedly free of charge. But break the rules, and after an initial bedding-in period when you’ll get away with a warning notice or some “advice and education”, it’ll be penalty charge time – that’s £25, rising to £50 if you don’t cough up quick.
You could say this is necessary. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. And we certainly need to do something to tackle air quality in the city. Whether this project simply shunts even more motorists onto the ring road, causing worsening jams and pollution further out, will be monitored, though what the authorities will be able to do about it is, like the air, not yet clear.
But what’s really niggling me at the moment is the positioning of ever more cameras all over the place, not positioned to catch shoplifters but to monitor where you and I are going and whether we’ve got permission from On High and a good enough reason to go there.
And gosh, these cameras will have the capacity to record whether citizens are keeping a COVID-safe distance apart.
I’m concerned that law-abiding taxpayers will need to declare the purpose of any motorised visit to the central zone and to accept that they will be spied on every time.
But that’s what’s coming, and before half-term.
To be fair, there are some undoubtedly good things envisaged, too.
Like a long-overdue refurb of Culver Street, more benches for people to rest if they struggle to get from car park to shops, an e-cycle hire scheme, and charming ‘parklets’ – little on-street oases to park your bike and sit while you catch your breath. New wayfinding signs, too, and reconfigured bus stops.
And at least, as Cllr Sven Hocking pointed out, after the experimental 18-month period we will be able to tweak things.
“We realise it may take a bit of getting used to,” one Wiltshire officer told the meeting.
And the prize for Understatement of the Year goes to …….

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