Under-fire council ‘spy vans’ paid for by Government grants

COMMUNITIES Secretary Eric Pickles faces embarassment after he criticised councils for using “spy vans” which were paid for by Government grants.

Mr Pickles criticised the amount of money generated by councils through parking charges and fines which Government figures suggest stood at £223m in 1997 and will hit £635m this year.

He also set out plans to rein in councils’ parking powers including a proposed ban on the use of CCTV and so-called spy vans to catch people parking in the wrong places.

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Barnsley Council is among those authorites which has invested in a van that records vehicle number plates which have angered Mr Pickles. But it emerged yesterday the vehicle was paid for with the help of a £43,000 grant from the Department for Transport as part of efforts to cut congestion in urban areas.

Mr Pickles has launched a series of attacks on councils over their attitude to parking.

“We want to rein in these over-zealous and unfair rules on parking enforcement, so it focuses on supporting high streets and motorists, not raising money,” he said.

“Parking spy cars are just one example of this and a step too far. Public confidence is strengthened in CCTV if it is used to tackle crime, not to raise money for council coffers.”

But councils rejected suggestions they are using parking charges as a source of revenue.

Tony Ball, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board, said: “Camera cars have been instrumental in keeping children from being hurt or killed on the way to school, and CCTV plays an important role elsewhere in monitoring traffic flow and keeping cars moving.

“Nobody likes getting a parking fine but the fact that less than one per cent go to adjudication shows that in the vast majority of cases councils get it right.”

He said money raised was used to provide parking services with surplus cash paying to repair potholes or subsidise bus travel.