Should councils be forced to publish parking revenues?

Local authorities across the UK are issuing an average of 1,200 parking tickets every hour, and while this alone should be a cause for concern, what’s more alarming is that no one actually knows what councils are doing with all the money generated from these fines. And so the Parliamentary Transport Committee has suggested every local authority should publish an annual parking report outlining exactly where parking revenues are coming from and how they are being used.

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Car driving cash cows

It has been suggested that councils are using parking charges and fines as a way to raise revenue. A BBC Panorama investigation highlighted this issue over the summer when it found Hammersmith & Fulham council was pulling in around £2million from one box junction alone. And while parking and traffic enforcement is necessary to keep our towns and cities moving, the practice of targeting motorists to raise revenues to cover other budgetary shortfalls is not only unethical but also illegal – as Barnet County Council found out following a recent judicial review. Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Committee, outlined: “Parking enforcement is necessary for managing demand on the roads. However, the use of parking charges and fines specifically to raise revenue by local authorities is neither acceptable nor legal. Yet there is a deep-rooted public perception that parking enforcement is used as a cash cow, so it’s essential that local authorities apply stringent transparency. “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 come from on or off street parking charges.” This would make local authorities accountable for the ways in which they generate and distribute money made from parking fines and hopefully put an end to any perceived profiteering on their part. If any evidence were needed of just how much some local authorities are making on the back of parking fines, consider that last year Camden borough council had a jaw-dropping £24.2million surplus on its parking account. Even this pales into insignificance when compared with the City of Wesminster’s eye-popping £37.1million surplus.

Common sense approach to parking

In what was clearly a move to curry favour with motorists, the Conservative Party recently suggested the rules around parking on double yellow lines should be turned on their head so they basically become a short-term parking bay. However, the Transport Committee suggests a less extreme and more common sense approach is all that is needed, such as implementing a five-minute ‘grace period’ once time is up on any paid for parking (isn’t it a sad indictment on the whole system that this isn’t already something of an unwritten rule?). It’s also suggested that parking fines be reduced to more realistic levels as many fixed penalty charges for parking offences are currently higher than those doled out for more serious offences such as speeding. For instance, the maximum penalty charge for parking offences in London is currently £130, more than twice what you’ll get charged for a speeding offence, provided the case isn’t referred to court. And there are also calls discount penalties for motorists who pay their fines within seven days of an unsuccessful appeal. Under the current system, motorists can get a 50% reduction on their fine should they pay up within 14 days, but this is immediately taken away should they appeal against the fine – and this is basically a way of bullying people into paying the fine and discouraging them from questioning it. It’s also be suggested local councils should be more sympathetic to local businesses and make sure any parking restrictions don’t become restrictions on their trade – which would put an end to the ridiculous practice of moving on or fining van drivers when they are delivering to business addresses. All of which is hard to argue with and would suggest a common sense approach is all that is required – though asking local councils to put their cash cow out to pasture could be a lot like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. We’ll keep you updated… Should local councils be forced to offer a breakdown of they distribute money pulled in from parking offences? Will it make any difference? Let us know your thoughts…

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