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Earlier today (Wednesday 23rd) the House of Commons transport select committee published its report into local authority parking enforcement and many of its key recommendations coincided closely with suggestions made by the RAC Foundation when we were asked to submit evidence to the inquiry. So here’s a relatively short guide to what the transport committee said, and what the RAC Foundation had recommended:

 

What they said: “Every local authority should publish an annual parking report to show precisely where their parking revenues come from and how any income is being used… Annual parking accounts would allow the public to see how much local revenue is derived from the enforcement of fines, and what proportion of this comes from on or off-street parking charges.”

 

What we said: “The Chief Parking Adjudicators have been active in calling for all local authorities to publish a parking annual report. This is not a statutory obligation on the part of local authorities, although the RAC Foundation believes it should be… In 2009, The Parking and Traffic Regulations Outside London (PATROL) Annual Report Award was launched to promote and share best practice amongst councils in the production of parking annual reports. However, a statutory obligation to produce a parking annual report may ensure that all local authorities do so.”

 

What they said: “The use of parking charges and fines specifically to raise revenue by local authorities is neither acceptable nor legal… Local authority parking enforcement activities should in general do no more than cover costs. Where high demand for parking gives rise to unintentional surpluses these must be clearly explained. The ring fence around parking revenues should not be removed.”

 

What we said: “Profit made from parking provision and enforcement should be ring-fenced for transport and environmental related investment as described in the Traffic Management Act (TMA 2004) and its guidance… It should be clear to all local authorities that they have no legal powers to set parking charges at a higher level than that needed to achieve the objective of relieving or preventing congestion of traffic.”

 

What they said: “The Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) scheme in Nottingham must be carefully evaluated before it is rolled out elsewhere. The guidance, regulations and legislation for WPL should be simplified and made fairer to introduce.”

 

What we said: “The RAC Foundation believes a WPL scheme must be tailored for a community. It must not be seen as a means of generating profit since its potential to drive out business from town centres may result in a loss of income in itself.”

 

What they said: “Local authorities must work with local businesses to develop innovative parking solutions that work for their area… It is unacceptable that enforcement regimes effectively force some companies to incur PCNs costing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year for carrying out their business… The DfT’s Operational Guidance to Local Authorities on Parking Policy and Enforcement [should] be clarified and updated, particularly in relation to rules for loading and unloading.”

 

What we said: “Allowing short-term parking exclusively for loading/unloading where there is a demand should be examined.”

 

What they said: “We expect local authorities to quickly rectify poor signage that causes confusion.”

 

What we said: “We would expect any ‘hot spots’, i.e. an area where an unusually high number of tickets is issued, to be identified and rectified at a local level. It is cynical of parking managers to know that compliance in a particular area and to do nothing about it.”

 

What they said: “Central Government should freeze the maximum penalty charge and develop differential fines for less serious parking violations. Common sense also suggests the DfT’s statutory guidance should stipulate that local authorities implement a ‘grace period’ of five minutes after the expiry of paid-for time on any paid parking before enforcement officers issue a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). A 25% penalty charge discount should also be introduced for motorists who pay within seven days of losing an appeal to a parking tribunal. Local authorities currently offer a 50% discount of motorists pay their penalty charge within 14 days, but remove this benefit entirely from motorists who appeal to a tribunal.”

 

What we said: Nothing. Having read the committee’s thoughts, however, we think that a responsible local authority should already be using some common sense when it comes to giving motorists a minute or two grace period before issuing a PCN. That aside, we think the committee has come up with some good ideas in this recommendation.

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Answering Parliamentary Questions (PQs) in the House of Commons yesterday (October 21st), Mr Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had to deal with a brief flurry of questions relating to local authorities’ parking policies. The exchanges led to a short news story in The Daily Telegraph the following day. Here is the Hansard record of what he was asked and what he answered:

“Mr David Crausby (Bolton North East) (Lab): Everyone in Bolton is working hard, despite difficult circumstances, to revitalise our town centre, but one of our biggest problems is expensive car parking. While the council is doing its bit to help, what can the Secretary of State do to encourage local authorities to deliver free car parking schemes, so that town centres can compete with out-of-town shopping?

Mr Pickles: What an excellent question. I agree entirely that local authorities have a responsibility. When my own local authority introduced half an hour free parking throughout the borough, it made an enormous difference. Expensive parking is cutting off the nose to spite the face. The more people come into a town centre, the more profitable it becomes and the better it is and the more people feel it is like home.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his initiatives to ease the cost of parking on our high streets. Does he agree that one of the simplest ways for local authorities to operate is to offer 30 minutes of free parking on roads outside shops, as that will revitalise our neighbourhood centres?

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend will recall that under the previous Government, councils were urged to put up car parking charges and to make it difficult for people to bring cars into town centres. As I said earlier, I know from personal experience that the policy he suggests makes a difference. If we are to protect our town centres, particularly our smaller shops, this is exactly the kind of measure that needs to be introduced, and those councils that do not do so are failing in their duty.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): The Secretary of State likes to talk the talk when it comes to parking charges, so will he explain why three of the highest-charging councils are Tory controlled?

Mr Pickles: By which I think the hon. Gentleman means the amount of money they receive. I suspect that under any system, no matter who ran it, Westminster might get rather a lot of car parking.”

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