Councils are breaking the law by using parking enforcement powers as a “cash cow”, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has said.
Local authorities in England could be banned from using CCTV cameras and “spy cars” to impose parking fines on motorists under new Government proposals unveiled today.
Mr Pickles told ITV’s Daybreak that councils using parking to supplement their income were acting “outside the law” and should prioritise tackling people who are “negligent or inconsiderate in terms of parking or causing dangers to others”.
He said: “We are worried that what is happening in local authorities is they are using parking fines as a kind of a cash cow from motorists. The legislation is very clear, you cannot do so.
“The legislation originally on CCTV was really about ensuring it was about stopping crime, not using it as a way just to pick out motorists to make that extra few bob.”
A Government consultation paper will suggest amending legislation underpinning the Traffic Management Act 2004 to outlaw the practice.
The Department for Transport says CCTV should be used only when it is impractical to use traffic wardens.
Mr Pickles said the Government was also looking at increasing the “grace” period for motorists to get back to their vehicle before being fined from five minutes to 15 minutes.
He also suggested it will be made easier to challenge wrongly issued tickets.
He criticised councils, saying that rather than using parking enforcement to raise money they should look to make similar cost savings to those made by the Government since the 2010 election.
“We mustn’t fall into the trap, into believing that it is either whacking great parking fines or services deteriorating,” he added.
“We should be on the side of ensuring the public have a fair deal and we should ensure people can go and park reasonably, not find themselves in a situation (where) they are worried all the time if they are a few minutes late they are going to have a whacking great fine.”
The announcement will be seen as a morale-booster as Conservative activists prepare to head off for their annual party conference next week in Manchester.
Mr Pickles told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that between 75 councils, almost a million fines were issued by mobile cameras and 10 million by static cameras over a five-year period.
Asked if he thought that local authorities were using cameras “just to catch people out and raise money”, he replied: “I’m afraid I do.”
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: “The issue is not so much about how parking policy is enforced but what the policy is being used to achieve.
“English councils make a surplus of over £500 million each year from parking and the suspicion remains that arbitrary rules are imposed to help maximise revenue rather than prevent congestion. Nobody wants a parking free for all, but they do want reasonable charges and fairness, whatever method is used to achieve it.”
The Local Government Association denied claims that parking enforcement was just a way to make money.
Councillor Tony Ball, vice-chairman of its economy and transport board, said: “Parking controls are not about revenue raising, they are absolutely essential for keeping the roads clear and making sure people can park near their homes and local shops.
“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.
“Income from on-street parking fines and charges is spent on parking services, with any money left over spent on services like fixing potholes and providing subsidised bus travel to children and the elderly.”
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties at campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “Rather than be honest with the public about the fact CCTV isn’t working, they’re turning them on residents to fill their coffers and justify the expensive systems they’ve bought.
“The Government is absolutely right to look at these rules and stop councils using surveillance equipment for parking enforcement. It will protect hard-working people from undue surveillance and restore some balance to the debate about CCTV.
“People have been told for years that CCTV is to catch criminals and improve public safety, but it’s clear that has not been the case in many areas. Councils should be transparent with residents about how many tickets are being issued with CCTV and how many criminals are being convicted, that way residents can decide for themselves if they really are better off with the cameras watching them.
“We need a serious debate about why Britain has such a uniquely high level of CCTV surveillance and the public will not be impressed to hear that instead of reducing crime, CCTV is just another way of generating revenue. Strangely this isn’t mentioned by councils when more cameras are being installed.”