The freeze in fuel duty has brought some relief to motorists but apart from the cost of petrol there is the cost of parking. For many councils this has been a highly lucrative source of revenue as excessive charges have been imposed.
These abuses remain but the Government has brought in some measures to restrain them. Penny Mordaunt, a Minister at the Communities and Local Government Department, recently summarised what has been done over the past five years:
- “Scrapped Labour’s Whitehall policy that pressured councils to hike car parking charges as a ‘demand management measure’ to discourage car use.
- Removed Whitehall restrictions which restricted the provision of off-street parking spaces, and issued new national planning policy to discourage unnecessary restrictions on parking spaces being provided in new developments.
- Abolished Labour’s Whitehall policy which inhibited parking charge competition between council areas, and instead introduced a new policy that says parking charges should not undermine the vitality of town centres, and stated that parking enforcement should be proportionate.
- Issued new planning practice guidance on removing street clutter and encouraging the provision of shopper-friendly parking space provision.
- Introduced the local retention of business rates, which means that councils benefit from business and retail growth in town centres, rather than just hiking parking charges.
- Increased parking transparency through the local government Transparency Code so councils are required to publish how income from parking charges is being used.
- Stopped the industrial use of CCTV for parking enforcement: this will commence in April following the Deregulation Bill receiving Royal Assent.
- Introduced a mandatory 10 minute “grace period” at the end of on-street and off-street, free and paid municipal parking.
- Introduced a new right to allow local residents and local firms to demand a review of parking in their area, including charges and the use of yellow lines.
- Changed guidance so drivers parking at an out-of-order meter are not fined if there are no alternative ways to pay.
- Reformed statutory parking guidance so it is less heavy handed with drivers, prevents over-aggressive action by bailiffs, positively supports local shops and clearly reinforces the prohibition against parking being used to generate profit.
- Updated guidance so the public know when they can be awarded costs at tribunals; strengthened the power of adjudicators to overturn parking fines; frozen parking fines in this Parliament; the Government will also be trialling a 25% discount for motorists who lose an appeal against a parking ticket at tribunal on the full price of their parking ticket.”
Would these changes be safe under a Labour Government?
The reforms have been attacked by the left wing Local Government Association and its Chairman, the Labour councillor Cllr David Sparks. One theme has been that the changes are anti-localist. But localism includes making councils accountable to local residents and businesses. It includes councils being honest and transparent about how they are financed. Localism doesn’t just mean passing power down from Whitehall to the town hall. It also means passing power down from the town hall to the local community.
The previous Labour Government was quite openly anti-motorist. In 2009 John Healey, then the Local Government Minister, complained to the LGA that parking charges weren’t high enough:
“Only one in five councils are using charging to the full potential.”
Labour MPs have not supported any of the reforms to make parking a car easier, the rules fairer and the charges more reasonable. The anti-motoring lobby and the demands of councils for more money would combine to put pressure on a Labour Government that would have little inclination to resist. Parking a car would become more onerous and more expensive.