Outside central London, the city of Brighton and Hove has the most lucrative car parking market in the country. High parking charges, applicable seven days a week, and an efficient enforcement regime operated by the city council's private partners, generate a strong income stream. Spending that money - which is ring-fenced for transport improvements - causes more problems.
Today I drove down Dyke Road to Seven Dials and was greeted by a large enamel Council-sponsored sign (cost? £200? £500?) , clumsily placed and reading "Improving Seven Dials". You know there is a problem when they have to tell you that. [See now my Footnote]
Some protracted road works have just been wound up, leaving Seven Dials with a new roundabout to replace the old roundabout. The surrounding area has been titivated - old clutter removed, new clutter installed.
The area definitely looks better and the new very solid roundabout may be safer than the old mini- one. I hope so. Remove the clutter of "Improving Seven Dials" and the roundabout will also look better.
But what should be regarded as routine maintenance and improvement is always got-up by the Council as some kind of major achievement. It isn't. And for anyone to think that it is would simply show how low our expectations of local government have fallen.
Partly, the self-publicity of "Improving Seven Dials" is meant to trigger grateful voting at the next election. Brighton and Hove has no single majority party and they all vie for votes through bigging-up what are really minor works. The Greens think that if they say "Cyclists" often enough then the cyclists will vote for them, Labour says "buses" and the Tories say "cars". They will each try to milk the Seven Dials improvements for their own purposes.
My position is this: we are looking at ordinary work which councils should be doing, day in and day out, routinely, with no great fanfares and certainly no enamel signs. Maybe once a year they can publish a list of everything that's been done, with the costs.
I would have quoted the cost of the Seven Dials work but it doesn't come up on my Google searches. My guess is that whatever the figures they will show that we got not very much for a very great deal.
Footnote 28 April 2014: There are in fact FOUR signs, each attached to the blue arrow direction signs in an aesthetically clumsy way. This is good news for signmakers, not so good for tax payers. More importantly, there is this underlying problem that public services now feel they are entitled to spend public money on what is purely self-congratulation.