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Posts Tagged ‘parking charges’

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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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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Barnet Council in London acted unlawfully when it increased the cost of residents’ parking permits to raise revenue.

In a ruling at the High Court in London, Mrs Justice Lang said the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act “is not a fiscal measure and does not authorise the authority to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes”.

She went on to say that Barnet had misinterpreted the law when it concluded that it was lawful to “budget for a surplus (of parking charges) at any level which it considered appropriate in order to generate income for other transport purposes which it wished to fund.”

Responding to the news, Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“This is fantastic news for drivers. This decision should never have been in any doubt. The law is explicit – parking charges are about managing congestion not raising revenue. If there is a surplus collected then there are strict rules on what it can be used for. The question is: why did Barnet ever think it had an arguable case to pick on one group of residents to shoulder an additional tax?

“We have every sympathy for the financial position councils find themselves in as they are starved of cash by central government, but we have no sympathy for attempts to make up the shortfall by arbitrarily picking on drivers.”

The RAC Foundation had previously written to one of those bringing the case against Barnet offering its advice based predominantly on a 2010 report for the Foundation by Dr Chris Elliott.

The Foundation letter said:

“In 2009, the Foundation published ‘The Car in British Society’ which revealed just how much cars are an integral part of the way we live in the twenty-first century.  The study which can be accessed on www.racfoundation.org  explains how the present level of car ownership has developed over the past fifty years and has brought enormous advantages to people and to the economy. Cars allow people all over the country increased choices about where they live, work, are educated and where they spend their leisure time.

“The Foundation appreciates that government is committed through the Climate Change Act to a wide and prolonged programme of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and so fully supports eco-driving and the development of car technology to reduce oil consumption; and actively promotes alternative models for transport and car ownership. However, even the greenest of cars needs to park, and to do so at each end of its journey.

“In recent years, local authority parking charges and the way in which they are applied have received massive public and media attention. This has led to increasing frustration amongst motorists in general, and residents who pay for on street parking in particular. Last year, as a result of calls from the public, the RAC Foundation commissioned Dr Chris Elliott, a barrister, to report on the legality of local authority parking charges. Dr Elliott’s report is attached and can also be accessed on the Foundation’s website.

“In his report, Dr Elliott said the law clearly stated that on-street parking fees and penalty charges can only be set with the intention of “relieving or preventing congestion of traffic” and covering the cost of administering the schemes.  He explained strict rules state that any surplus, with only minor exceptions, must be spent on contributing to the cost of off-street parking, public transport, road improvements and environmental improvements.

“Councils should not set out to raise money for these or any other purpose.

“The RAC Foundation believes local authorities must resist the temptation to raise money from parking, or else they will be breaking the law and leaving themselves open to legal challenge. The Foundation would also like point out the unfairness of charging one group of residents  – for no other reason than they wish to pay to park on the street – for the upkeep of roads or other facilities, which benefit and are used by the whole community. The result of the challenge to an increase in CPZ parking charges in Barnet will be significant to councils and their residents nationwide. The number of CPZs is increasing and so the number of people with an interest in this particular case.

“I understand this letter may be presented as evidence in a legal challenge to parking charge increases.”

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