U-turn over learner driver teaching ban in Swanage car parks

Following a local outcry, Swanage Town Council has scrapped the controversial rule that banned learner drivers from practising in its car parks.

During a review of the council’s policy, primarily to update it to include the use of electric vehicle chargers, it was noticed by an eagle-eyed local resident that the rules prohibited the use of the car parks for teaching learner drivers.

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Main beach car park

Main Beach car park in Swanage is in a popular central location off Victoria Avenue

Surprise to most locals

The existence of a ban, which has been in force since 1993, came as a surprise to most locals, many of whom fondly remember their first driving lesson in a Swanage car park.

A driving instructor wrote to the council in response to the latest consultation, pointing out that being able to park in a parking space was part of the driving test and there were few other opportunities to practise this, other than in its car parks.

There are five car parks in Swanage and due to a twist in history they are all owned by the town council and not Dorset Council, unlike nearby towns like Wareham.

This meant that Swanage largely escaped the huge increase in car parking charges introduced by Dorset Council in 2023.

While the town council does get to set the fees and collect the parking income, it also has to oversee the management of the Main Beach, North Beach, Broad Road, Mermond Place and the Central (Co-op) car parks

Swanage Town Hall

Swanage town councillors are responsible for all the car parks in Swanage not Dorset Council

Only for the purposes of parking

Following the public consultation and the feedback from local residents, Swanage Town Council voted at its council meeting on Monday 25th March 2024 to remove the clause in its car park policy.

However at the meeting, councillor Bill Trite raised the issue that the policy still retained a clause that stated Swanage’s car parks must only be used for the purposes of parking, which would still preclude driving lessons.

Councillor Gary Suttle replied that while it may seem contradictory, it was still entirely reasonable for learner drivers to spend their time driving round a car park while they looked for a suitable space to park.

It’s not known why the clause about learner drivers was added in 1993, although it’s presumed that it was in response to a problem at the time.

Today, the main problem is the lack of qualified driving instructors who are able or willing to come to Swanage to teach learner drivers, let alone practice in the car parks.

Concluding the discussion, councillor Chris Tomes said:

“I think the current proposal is a sensible balance. We should remember that all our car parks are next to children’s play areas, so we need to take into account the needs of vehicles, pedestrians and learner drivers.

“There are legal responsibilities to ensure everyone’s safety and this allows the council to intervene if future problems arise.”

North Beach car park in Swanage

North Beach car park is a quiet location for any learner driver to practise parking in a space

Other changes to car park rules

The updated Swanage car parking policy will come into force from Monday 1st April 2024 and does include other changes. These include:

  • Increased daytime parking charges across most car parks and categories
  • Introduces free overnight parking between 9 pm and 8 am in the Broad Road, Main Beach and North Beach car parks
  • Introduces changes to the residents’ permit scheme, including increased periods of free parking in the long-stay car parks
  • Introduces provisions to regulate the charging of electric vehicles in certain car parks
  • Introduces allocated multi use parking bays for longer vehicles in certain car parks
  • Prohibits overnight parking of motorhomes in all car parks managed by Swanage Town Council
  • Introduces one-hour no return periods in the short-stay car parks

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