By Mark Smulian | 1 August 2013
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has hit out at councils’ ‘unfair’ parking charges, accusing some authorities of using them as ‘cash cows’.
English councils are forecast to make £635m profit from parking charges and fines this year – up £34m on last year – but the communities secretary is concerned that the costs deter residents from shopping locally. He said he would look at whether rules on these charges needed to change to support local retailers.
‘This £635m municipal parking profit shows why we need to review and rein in unfair town hall parking rules,’ said Pickles.
‘This government has scrapped the last administration’s Whitehall rules which told councils to hike up parking charges and adopt aggressive parking enforcement. But councils aren’t listening, and local shops and hard-working families are suffering as a result. The law is clear that parking is not a tax or cash cow for town hall officers.’
Pickles cited a 2012 survey by the website confused.com, in which 70% of respondents said they intentionally avoided shopping areas with high parking prices, while 66% would return to the high street if parking was more affordable.
Meanwhile, research by the motoring lobby group the RAC Foundation reported on parking charge surpluses by each council for 2011/12, when the total was £565m.
Only 52 of the 359 councils reporting made a loss on their parking charges.
Westminster City Council had the highest surplus at £41.6m, far ahead of second placed Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea at £28.1m.
The top ten of surpluses were all in London except for Cornwall and Brighton & Hove.
RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister said: ‘For many local authorities, parking charges are a nice little earner, especially in the capital.
‘Not all authorities make big sums. Several run a current account deficit and indeed of those with surpluses many will see the money vanish when capital expenditure is taken into account.
‘Drivers who are paying have a reasonable expectation to see the cash spent on improving the roads.’
Peter Box, chair of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board, said: ‘Parking revenue is spent on paying for parking services. Any money left over goes towards transport services like filling potholes, concessionary travel, park and rides, street lights and road improvement projects. Many councils have to subsidise parking services as the cost is not covered by charges.’