Minister may relax parking rules

Roads Minister Robert Goodwill

Roads Minister Robert Goodwill

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The Government is considering relaxing laws on parking enforcement amid fears town halls are using fines as a “cash cow” while their budgets are squeezed.

Roads Minister Robert Goodwill told MPs he will consider whether local authorities should be forced to give motorists a five-minute grace period after their tickets run out, to prevent sharp practices among parking wardens who issue fines within moments of a meter clicking on.

Mr Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, is also considering whether motorists who unsuccessfully appeal against a parking ticket should be offered a 25 per cent discount if they pay their fine within seven days of the verdict.

It follows claims that the current system of ‘prompt-pay discounts’ deters people from appealing unfair fines.

“There is a real problem with the public’s view of local authorities’ approach to parking and traffic enforcement,” the Minister admitted.

“We are considering whether mandating a grace period of perhaps five minutes after the end of paid-for parking might provide the public with reassurance that they will never be issued with a ticket just one minute after the meter runs out.”

The amount of money town halls rake in from parking fines and charges varies dramatically from area to area, depending on the wildly different approaches taken by different regimes around the country.

In total, Yorkshire’s 22 councils profited by more than £32.5m from parking fines and charges last year, with Leeds and York Councils two of the highest-earning in the country.

Leeds pocketed almost £6.25m over the 12-month period, the highest in Yorkshire. York was second in the region, with £5.1m. Scarborough was third, with £3.2m profit, followed by Bradford, Hull and then Harrogate.

Sheffield was only seventh in the region, collecting £1.6m, despite being Yorkshire’s second-largest city.

At the other end of table, Doncaster – one of Yorkshire’s largest towns – profited the least from parking fines and tickets; just £117,000 over the course of the year. Such disparities have caused consternation among MPs, with the cross-party Commons transport committee recommending a series of changes to try to restore public confidence.

Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman – a Labour MP from the North West – said: “The response to our inquiry highlighted a deep-rooted public perception – it is not necessarily the reality – that parking enforcement is used as a cash cow by local authorities.

“Taken together, in 2012-13 local authorities in England made a surplus of £594m from parking activities. However, those surpluses were not evenly distributed.”

The committee warned that the current system which sees most councils offer a 50 per cent discount to motorists who pay their fine within a week may prevent people with a legitimate grievance from appealing, due to the risk of seeing their potential costs double.

Mr Goodwill said a balance must be struck which would also dissuade people from making frivolous appeals.

“There is a legitimate concern that discounts on prompt payment following appeal would result in every charge being appealed, so, following the committee’s recommendation, we have asked whether the introduction of a 25 per cent discount for motorists who pay within seven days of losing an appeal might be worthwhile,” the Minister said.

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