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Between them the 22 parking authorities in Wales made a surplus (‘profit’) of £8.7 million in 2012-13.

Cardiff had the biggest surplus at £2.6 million. This was followed by Swansea (£1.3 million) and Gwynedd (£800,000).

Not that all local authorities were in profit. Of the 22, five – Torfaen, Flintshire, Newport, Vale of Glamorgan and Blaenau Gwent – recorded a deficit (‘loss’) on their parking activities. Nor is the level of profit necessarily indicative of one authority’s parking charges and enforcement policy versus another. The size of a council also has to be considered. However with significant sums of money being raised the big question is what it is being used for.

The numbers are revealed in analysis for the RAC Foundation by transport consultant David Leibling of the official accounts councils must legally make each year to the Welsh Government.

The surplus or deficit is calculated by taking parking income (on- and off-street parking charges and penalties) and deducting the costs of providing the parking. This is the full surplus/deficit table going back to 2007-8:

    Surplus (in £,000s)
    2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 % change 2012-13 on 2011-12
1 Cardiff 2322 2873 2909 1928 2788 2586 -7%
2 Swansea 607 467 1572 1254 1426 1256 -12%
3 Gwynedd 886 765 895 568 692 804 16%
4 Denbighshire 783 674 707 740 741 677 -9%
5 Conwy 508 568 292 468 458 560 22%
6 Carmarthenshire 761 358 288 241 387 487 26%
7 Rhondda Cynon Taf 168 228 456 467 353 478 35%
8 Monmouthshire 886 716 626 593 719 461 -36%
9 Powys 611 585 655 641 245 358 46%
10 Merthyr Tydfil 400 378 340 309 137 340 148%
11 Bridgend 900 706 621 372 436 300 -31%
12 Ceredigion 122 161 255 330 351 287 -18%
13 Pembrokeshire 78 39 102 134 262 264 1%
14 Neath Port Talbot -148 -214 -271 -84 283 247 -13%
15 Wrexham 321 361 403 491 520 240 -54%
16 Caerphilly 204 198 219 57 232 162 -30%
17 Isle of Anglesey -26 -31 71 89 51 55 8%
18 Torfaen -97 -93 -78 -194 -94 -39 -59%
19 Flintshire -134 -130 -215 -82 -112 -100 -11%
20 Newport 864 484 608 417 -191 -206 8%
21 Vale of Glamorgan -171 -126 -98 -18 -123 -238 93%
22 Blaenau Gwent -285 -307 -231 -245 -285 -311 9%
  Total 9561 8661 10126 8476 9277 8668 -7%

However the combined profit is 7% below that seen in the previous year (£9.3 million). But the report shows that despite this slight year on year decline the income figure for all councils from parking (before costs are deducted) is now at a record high of £30.4 million.

Cardiff (£6.2 million) and Swansea (£4.4 million) top the income table followed by Carmarthenshire (£2.1 million).

One reason why the national surplus figure has fallen despite a record level of income is because the cost to councils of running their parking operations (£21.8 million) has been rising.

The beauty of the numbers is that they are official. None of the councils can dispute the calculations because this is the data they themselves submit to the Welsh Government.

As ever with parking, the story is less about the numbers and more about what the councils are trying to achieve. Parking must always be about managing congestion, not raising money and we would recommend that all local authorities produce an annual parking report detailing their parking strategy.

Of course, most people, including drivers, recognise the need for parking enforcement. You only have to look at the chaos caused in Aberystwyth back in 2011 when there was no parking enforcement.

The Foundation’s work on parking in Wales come after we published last December similar analysis of the figures for the 353 English parking councils which revealed that they made a profit of £594 million in 2012-13.

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The notion that Birmingham could one day have a workplace parking levy (WPL) similar to Nottingham’s has ruffled a few feathers in the city’s business community. The concept was set out as a possible option earlier this month in a new ‘green paper’ published for consultation by Birmingham City Council. The council’s Birmingham Mobility Action Plan (BMAP), which considers how the city’s transport infrastructure is to be developed in the next two decades, and also how this development is going to be paid for, says, for example, that Nottingham’s WPL scheme “started off as a highly contentious scheme” but then adds that “as the scheme has progressed and matured, and as tangible by-products of the charge in the form of physical infrastructure on the ground has been delivered (two additional metro lines and the upgrade of the city’s rail station), so attitudes to it have softened”.

A softening of attitudes towards Nottingham’s WPL was not greatly in evidence at a meeting of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Business Transport Group held shortly after the publication of the BMAP, however. Speaking at the meeting, George Cowcher, CEO of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, said the main concern of businesses in the city was that, in terms of inward investment in the long term, the levy could do more harm than good.

Cowcher conceded that few major employers have moved out of Nottingham as a result of the imposition of what he terms “the workplace parking tax” for the fairly obvious reason that companies that have invested in premises and machinery and people can’t just up sticks and move, but he believes the imposition of the WPL has had an impact on inward investment.

Although keeping an open mind about the WPL and speaking on behalf of members, Cowcher said he was not happy with Nottingham City Council and its role in bringing in the WPL, not least because of his belief that the council has moved the goalposts at least once since the WPL was first mooted, in terms of what the scheme is supposed to be for. “The idea was originally sold as a purely traffic reduction measure [as seems to be case in the Birmingham green paper – ed] because it would make employers keen to offer less commuter parking,” he observed. “But the council then changed its tack and started saying that it was introducing the WPL because it wanted to significantly improve public transport and therefore we need this in order to access more government funding.”

This change of course rather backfired, however, as it made the business community’s early opposition more fierce, due to the simple fact that many of the biggest payers get the least benefit from the public transport improvements funded by the levy.

What this means is that a city centre employer with a relatively small number of parking spaces for its employees pays a relatively small amount of WPL but benefits hugely from improvements to public transport, whereas an employer in one of the industrial estates or science parks on the outskirts of the city pays a large amount of WPL because it has a large car park – but the reason it has a large car park is because it needs one, because many of Nottingham’s industrial estates have absolutely no public transport provision at all! Here Cowcher estimates that 20% of the city’s employers are currently paying 90% of the levy.

The practical effect of imposing the WPL on this latter type of employer has already become manifest, Cowcher added, and it hasn’t been the one the council envisaged. “It has had a big displacement effect on car parking as employers have passed on the tax to their employees, which has led to increased congestion on the industrial estates as people started parking on the roads,” he said. “The city council has therefore had to go through this big exercise of adding extra yellow lines on the roads – but at what cost?”

Cowcher concluded his presentation by observing that the introduction of the WPL has hit some of Nottingham’s largest employers hard. “Boots [the city’s largest single employer, which is liable for over £1m per annum in WPL] has actually had to employ a parking charges officer just to keep on top of this,” he noted.

He also suggested that Nottingham City Council could have done more to consult with local businesses before imposing the WPL – a lesson for Birmingham, perhaps – and should have considered other options, including possibly a city centre congestion charge which might have been fairer. “Indeed, road pricing would have been better, if traffic reduction had been the major aim,” he said.

 “Although the Chamber is supportive of the tram and station development as two top transport priorities for local businesses in Nottingham, the Chamber and the majority of its members remain opposed to the WPL,” he added. “However, the focus now is on working with the city council to help mitigate the impact the levy will have on them.”

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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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Richard Littlejohn writes in today’s Daily Mail about parking in Bromsgrove where a motorist was fined for overstaying in a car park after having bought a ticket, whilst travellers who had not bought a ticket were not fined because ‘they were occupying the space illegally’ . Littlejohn says he could fill his column every week with stories of ‘vindictive traffic wardens, insane parking restrictions, crippling fines and grasping bureaucrats.’ His solution to the debacle in Bromsgrove – refuse to pay your ticket by saying that you are not actually parking, just illegally occupying the bay – is not one that the RAC Foundation would support, but it is time local authorities got their parking houses in order.

In contrast, two days ago John Evans and Dominic Tobin wrote in the Sunday Times about the parking utopia that Swindon has become. No vindictive enforcement or grasping councillors there. Swindon has set its town centre stall out to attract car-borne shoppers with an enthusiasm that would have those who seek to control car-ownership through parking measures jumping up and down.

But maybe Swindon can see something, also identified by Pickles, which has been threatened by attitudes towards parking, and it’s not just footfall in the high street. In July this year, Mr Pickles’ Department published the following:

We believe that people can come together in strong, united communities if we encourage and support them to:

  • have shared aspirations, values and experiences
  • have a strong sense of mutual commitments and obligations, promoting personal and social responsibility

 Every time someone finds that a few minutes parking results in a fine of £50 or more, and that this is apparently legal, and that the local authority has supported it, he or she stands a good chance of losing faith in the rule of law and respect for the local authority.

No town or city could run efficiently with the chaos that would result from a ‘park anywhere at anytime’ regime. But not all enforcement results in smoother traffic flow. Why enforce for a few minutes overstay in a near empty car park? Why risk alienating local residents or visitors with a fine when other strategies could be used?

In Auckland all time-limits from on-street pay and display parking in the city centre have been removed and instead increasing tariffs are relied on to manage demand: the longer you park, the more expensive it becomes per hour. However, if you are parking for less than ten minutes it’s free.

This means that every parking space in the city has become a potential pick up or drop off space. So motorists no longer have to fear a ticket for dropping off a parcel or picking up a newspaper – so long as you park in a space and don’t stay for more than ten minutes.  

And those motorists who want to stay for three hours can – they just pay the going rate, which quickly increases in the most popular streets.

The same system could work here with ‘pay and display’ or mobile phone payments on –street, and the same payment methods plus ‘pay-on-foot’ in off-street car parks. Charges can be varied to suit local conditions but essentially you just pay for what you use.  If local communities wanted free parking in certain locations at certain times, that could be accommodated. The trick seems to be to get people to park legally in locations they can afford without the threat of being ticketed: to make them feel like valued citizens and customers rather than potential criminals.

Local authorities in the UK could do worse than examine the wider benefits of keeping their communities close, whilst still being paid for parking in designated car parks and spaces.

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Retail guru Bill Grimsey’s review of the future of the high street has just hit the newsstands (well, his website) and it includes some trenchant comments on town centre parking. He starts off by criticising the position of the Local Government Association, which is that: “High streets are not damaged by parking charges, which are in fact essential traffic management tools focused entirely at supporting high streets.”

“Ostriches stick their heads in the sand [they don’t, actually] when faced with danger and so does the LGA, it seems,” Mr Grimsey says in response. “Everybody we spoke to during the course of the review… stated that ‘levelling the playing field’ to out of town convenience with regards to parking was essential to give the high street a fighting chance.”

As such, therefore, two of Mr Grimsey’s recommendations concern parking. These are:

Make it easier for motorists to shop by building in a two hour free high street and town centre car-parking system to the overall business plan for the location; and

Local authorities to freeze car-parking charges for a minimum of 12 months

He is also notably keen in his new report on the potential of parking-related technology to improve the ‘offer’ of the high street. “If you drive, it [a Networked High Street, apparently] will direct you via Twitter messages [which is not something that the RAC Foundation would necessarily recommend] to free spaces in the carpark or on the street (it gets its information from the sensors based in the parking bays, generating a parking map in real-time and feeding that to Google Maps for the area),” the report suggests. “The High Street Manager can also lower the parking prices (via an Electronic Pricing Manager using a real-time display) and push it through Twitter to a local neighbourhood database, screens in nearby parks and catchment areas and notice boards above the traffic lights.”

In advocating free (or at least cheaper) and better managed parking regimes in town centres, Mr Grimsey seems to be more or less echoing the parking-related recommendations in the 2011 review of the high street carried out by Mary Portas. “Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres,” Portas said in her review. “I understand that to offer free parking all day is not the solution. I recognise that this would be potentially open to abuse by local workers and I want more free car parking spaces to be the privilege of local shoppers.”

The apparent agreement between Mr Grimsey and Ms Portas on this issue is, perhaps, particularly significant given that the former has been considerably less than complimentary about much of the work of the latter in the run up to the publication of his review of the high street.

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Eric Pickles really is in the wrong job. Or, more correctly, in, the wrong Government department.

With all of the ministers in the Department for Transport seemingly under orders to talk about nothing other than HS2 at the moment, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has seized the moment to speak up for the British motorist.

“New planning guidance to be published this week will push for more town centre parking spaces and tackle the blight of… aggressive ‘anti-car’ traffic calming measures like road humps,” a new press release from the DCLG says. “The new practice guidance, covering design, town centres and travel plans, will state that councils should understand the important role appropriate parking facilities can play in rejuvenating shops, high streets and town centres. It also sets out how town hall planning rules should not be used to tax drivers or justify development of crude traffic calming measures, such as poorly-sited bollards and road humps.

“Today’s announcement is also part of a wider government initiative to support parking and local shoppers,” the DCLG adds. “Ministers will be making more announcements on parking in due course.”

Mr Pickles said “Draconian town hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park. Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores.”

The DCLG’s press release about its new planning guidance has already drawn an angry response from the Local Government Association. “Councils work hard to try and boost trade and keep High Streets vibrant through parking incentives such as free short-stay, cheaper evenings and free Sundays,” an LGA spokesman said.

The Department for Communities and Local Government guidance itself will be published shortly.

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Colour enhanced aerial maps of many American cities reveal starkly just how much space is presently allocated to parking. An innovative American design team, Alloybuild, has asked itself:

‘Is there a new model for American cities, where the impact of the private car and its needs can be reduced whilst still allowing the positive benefits of personal transport for residents and the economy?’

The answer they have come up with is ‘Shuffle City’

The project designers argue that if people didn’t own vehicles, there would be no need for either the extensive flat car parks or the multi-storeys that serve as a parking infrastructure in the urban landscapes of car-centric cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles. The share of city space taken up for parking would shrink, making way for more green space, as well as denser planning for workspace, housing, and retail. With buildings that people use closer together, there would be more potential for designing safe and green pedestrian routes between them.

RAC Foundation research has shown that privately owned cars are actually parked at home for 80% of the time, parked elsewhere for 16% of the time and are only on the move for 4% of the time.

Alloybuild has focused on people using their cars for relatively short periods and has come up with the idea of a modern city where people depend less on personally owned vehicles that need parking space when not in use, and more on a publicly available fleet of continuously moving automated vehicles to serve urban mobility needs. The new style fleet of individual transport units would also replace dependence on the more traditional public transport systems like bus and light rail.

Shuffle

Within a city, the new style vehicles would make up part of a live, self-regulating system. Software would manage the ‘driving’ including: giving way at junctions, routing, and speed, so there would be no need to stop between the origin and destination of a journey. The ultra-lightweight vehicle units don’t need drivers – and, importantly, will not need city-centre parking.

 

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