Cambridge Evening News
23rd June 06
DRIVERS are paying more than £1 million a year in parking fines, the News can reveal.
Since Cambridge City Council took over from the police as parking enforcer, the number of tickets being handed out each year has risen from 10,000 to 46,000.
The shock figures are revealed as a report by MPs branded Britain's parking enforcement measures inconsistent, confused and a mess.
But the council has defended its actions, claiming it is "not overzealous".
■ The city council pulled in £1,211,000 from penalty charge notices in the 2005/06 financial year.
■ 46,630 tickets were slapped on motorists to reach that total.
■ This compares with just 10,000 tickets given out in the year before the council took over parking.
The Government will issue new statutory guidance to councils on parking in response to widespread criticism of over-zealous enforcement.
Nationally, the sum paid by motorists in parking fees and penalties has almost doubled to £1.2 billion a year in eight years.
In Cambridge, despite pulling in £1,211,000 from penalty charge notices, covering the cost of the service cost the council £1,140,000.
This gave a profit of £71,000 - money that will be used to improve transport facilities in the city.
The city council took over parking enforcement from the police in October 2004 after the number of traffic wardens dwindled to just two, and since then, the number of parking tickets issued has shot up.
The number of tickets issued is far higher than council bosses originally forecast. In September 2003, before the council took over parking enforcement, they warned the scheme could mean as many as 20,000 tickets being issued in Cambridge.
But Philip Hammer, contract manager, insisted enforcement in Cambridge was not over-zealous.
He said: "Our aim is only to issue tickets to people who park in ways that flout the restrictions in place, act without respect for other road users and pedestrians and hinder the free flow of traffic."
Yesterday (Thursday, 22 June)'s report, by the House of Commons transport committee, said parking policy in Britain was "inconsistent and confused".
It said lines and signs to indicate parking rules were often unclear and many drivers had difficulty understanding the law.
But Mr Hammer said this was not the case in Cambridge. He believes Cambridge already follows many of the recommendations in the report.
MPs are expected to ask for a national system of standards for privatised parking enforcement.
Mr Hammer said: "Any initiative to bring enforcement throughout the country up to the standards employed here in Cambridge can only benefit everyone and restore public belief in the system.
"Our aim is to be consistent in enforcement across the city and in all sectors of the community."
He said the success of Cambridge's system was shown by the low rate of appeals received by the National Parking Adjudication Service - 0.0005 per cent of tickets issued resulted in an appeal.
MPs said they were "shocked" by the number of penalty charge notices issued but later cancelled.
Nationally, in 2003, this amounted to 20 per cent of the 7.1 million notices issued. But Cambridge has one of the lowest cancellation rates in the country at fewer than 10 per cent.
The committee is expected to favour the policy of giving wardens discretion when issuing tickets rather than rigidly sticking to rules.
But Mr Hammer warned giving too much discretion could result in wardens being drawn into angry confrontations with drivers.
He said: "There is limited discretion given to Cambridge parking attendants during their observation time and they are encouraged to seek guidance from senior staff and council officers if the infringement is relatively minor."
Confrontation and abuse were not uncommon, he said."Even in a peaceful city like Cambridge, in the last six months we had 21 incidents of intimidating behaviour towards parking attendants and three cases in court for assault or threatening behaviour."If a parking attendant is given too much discretion, it increases their vulnerability, as the belief would be that they could be intimidated into withdrawing a ticket. We do have severe concerns over putting attendants in a situation that could be potentially dangerous."
The committee's report criticises systems where parking wardens are given targets and incentives - a practice not used in Cambridge.
Mr Hammer said targets could lead to underhand practices and destroy public confidence.
He said: "We are not interested in high numbers at the expense of quality if this reduces the effectiveness of enforcement as an educational tool. We fully support moves to introduce contracts like the one we have with Legion Parking Services, which strictly forbids bonuses, incentives and any other type of target-based payment based on the number of tickets issued."
Mr Hammer said "virtual" parking permits could replace paper ones, which can slip or be obscured, and phone payments for pay and display could do away with tickets that can fall or get blown away.
But John Bridge, Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive, said: "People believe that there is a very aggressive policy towards motorists in Cambridge.
"Sometimes you park with good intentions but something happens outside your control and you don't get back in time. I don't think the punishment fits the crime if you run five minutes over. This is like a business plan where they set targets to recover their costs. Common sense does not prevail."
In the last financial year Huntingdonshire District Council received £167,521 from excess charges and penalty notices.
A spokeswoman said they did not have an incentive regime for parking attendants and said they were paid the going rate for the job.
She said: "A lot of them are mature people and as far as we are concerned we feel they are doing a great job. If anyone appealed against a decision we would extend the deadline.
We try and be reasonable in terms of operating the policy."
In Newmarket, parking charges were introduced in most of the public car parks earlier this year and the possibility of residents' parking permits is being discussed.
But currently enforcement of parking regulations in car parks is the responsibility of Forest Heath District Council and on-street parking restrictions the responsibility of traffic wardens and police.
Coun Robin Millar, spokesman for the council's Conservative controlling group, said: "Parking does raise revenue for the council, but it's not about creating a cash cow."
Sue Fisher, from North Hertford- shire District Council, said: "Parking attendants in North Hertfordshire do not work on an incentive basis. Their aim is to encourage drivers to park legally - they would be happy to issue no tickets at all."
A spokesman for St Edmundsbury Borough said it currently had responsibility for council-owned car parks and streets where residents' parking schemes were in place, whereas the police issued tickets for areas with double yellow lines, etc."We are looking into the viability of taking over responsibility for the on-street environment from the police. Once this work is complete, a report will be considered by the car parking working party,"
Uttlesford District Council, which covers Saffron Walden, received £68,200 in penalty charge notices for on-street parking in the last financial year. A spokeswoman said: "We openly patrol; we don't hide behind bushes. We have an appeals process but don't get a lot of complaints."
East Cambridgeshire District Council spokesman Sean Gallagher said: "In 1997/8 revenue from tickets was £9,000 and in 2004/5 it was £18,000. This is due to the inflation of the price of excess parking charge tickets and because we now better enforce the system."
Income from parking - Britain's top 10.
Unlike many local authorities, Cambridge City Council has retained control and ownership of most off-street multi-storey car parks within the city. Approaching 90 per cent of the parking income for Cambridge comes from these car parks.