Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Road signs - lessons for regulation

There is sometimes a case for regulation. For example, oversight of the governance and finances of housing associations means that lenders reduce the interest of loans as the HAs are seen as lower risk. But regulation and regulators tend to grow beyond what is strictly necessary.

Government politicians and civil servants cling to regulation as a safety blanket. Opposition politicians promote regulation ask why regulation didn’t stop each and every unfortunate incident. The auditors thrive on regulation. The regulators can justify every lengthening of red tape. There is always a case for doing and regulating more – without little time to consider the compliance costs, let alone the unforeseen and unintended consequences.

So it was great to learn today that a town in Germany is abolishing road signs. So often denigrated as lovers of regimentation, the Germans are showing that the way with this – allowing pedestrians and motorists to self-organise, take responsibility and negotiate amongst themselves. It’s a theory of “shared space” already being tried elsewhere in Europe and supported by Eurocrats of all people. There is even a variant in Kensington involving the decluttering of streets.

(If you don’t think it will work think about car parks. They don’t generally need traffic lights and the rest.)

Let us hope the lessons of Bohmte – with its bonfire of road signs – are learned elsewhere – not least in the UK’s public services. We need a bit less regulation and more anarchy.

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