Councils have been accused of declaring “war on the motorist” after introducing a raft of new parking charges to plug holes in their budgets.
n towns and cities across the country, the cost of parking is soaring, with some local authorities doubling – and in one case trebling – their rates.
Elsewhere, residents are being forced to buy expensive permits for the first time and thousands of free parking spaces are being scrapped and replaced with paid-for spaces.
Motoring organisations said the charges were effectively a tax on the motorist, and said they could be subject to legal challenges because they were designed to raise revenue rather than ease congestion. Small businesses warned that the changes could also hurt the economy.
But local authorities defended the increases and said the extra revenue would be reinvested in road safety.
An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has established that at least 150 councils have brought in new parking charges this year, or are considering such a move.
These included 40 councils that have either introduced, or plan to introduce, parking charges in areas where parking was previously free and 12 councils that are extending chargeable hours or bringing in weekend charging to raise extra funds.
The remainder are putting up, or considering putting up, the cost of existing parking.
The areas affected include:
- Milton Keynes, where the council is preparing to charge for 5,000 spaces that are currently free – bringing in an extra £2.2 million a year.
- Brent, in north-west London, where the council agreed on Wednesday to increase residents’ permit charges and introduce an emission-based charging regime that will raise an extra £1.1 million.
- Babergh, in Suffolk, and Broxtowe, in Nottinghamshire, where parking charges will be introduced for the first time.
- Blackpool, where, in April, prices in three car parks more than trebled to £7.50 for a four to 12-hour ticket, up from £2.20. At one of the town’s long-stay car parks, minimum rates increased from 50p for up to one hour, to £2.30 for up to two hours.
- Northampton, where the cost of joining the residents’ parking scheme rose sevenfold, from £50 to £350.
In North Somerset, Dartford in Kent, Doncaster in South Yorkshire, Rushmoor in Hampshire, Bexley in London, and in the Scottish Borders, some tariffs have been doubled.
Councils told The Sunday Telegraph that budget cuts were a factor in their decision to raise more money from parking charges.
Dozens of councils said they could not provide precise details of the extra income they expected to receive but those that could said motorists would be paying out at least £14.8 million more.
Paul Watters, the head of public affairs at the AA, described the situation as a “war on the motorist”.
“With councils’ coffers being drained and grants being cut, parking is the only revenue provider they have and they are clearly going to milk it,” said Mr Watters.
“Parking charges are effectively a tax on motorists when they should be about managing space effectively.
“Drivers are being ripped off at the pumps, ripped off by parking, and it affects the whole economy.”
Prof Stephen Glaister, the director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Motorists have always been suspicious that councils regard them as easy pickings. It now seems that in some cases they are dead right.
“The legal advice the Foundation has received is very clear; on-street parking fees can only be set to relieve or prevent congestion, and cover the costs of running the scheme.
“For cash-strapped councils to set charges simply to raise general revenue is ‘back door’ taxation and leaves them open to legal challenge.”
In 2007-08, councils in England collected £324.5 million from sales of parking permits and car park charges. A spokesman for the Federation of Small Business said: “By increasing parking charges in local town centres it will drive people to out-of-town shopping centres where most of the time they can park for free.
“Businesses are concerned about it. We will lose impulse trade.”
Some councils have listened to those concerns by freezing or lowering tariffs. Selby in North Yorkshire had considered increasing charges but rejected the idea. Mark Crane, the council leader, said: “It would have been easy for us to try and claw back some funding through increases in car parking charges, but we don’t think that’s the right approach.
“Now is the time to support local business by keeping down costs for people who want to use their local shops and access local services.”
As a result of the recession some local authorities have had reduced receipts from parking tickets, and justify the changes simply as a way to balance the books. In Brent the proposals to introduce an emission-based charging regime are now due to go out to public consultation.
A council spokesman said: “This is the first rise in controlled parking zone charges in Brent for over 10 years and brings us more in line with other London boroughs.
“The majority of residents will still be paying less than £100 a year, those with the lowest emissions will pay nothing and less than a dozen residents will pay the maximum charge for high-emitting vehicles.” Richard Kemp, the vice chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils do not increase parking charges lightly. Any town halls which are putting up prices for motorists will have examined the likely impact on people who live in the area and on those who visit.
“Some councils are freezing and cutting parking charges as part of their efforts to support local businesses and tourism.
“In some cases, introducing or increasing charges can help deter drivers who may have been using town centre spaces while they commuted to another city, making room for genuine visitors and shoppers.
“Councils are well aware of the need to keep costs down for residents during these difficult financial times. Each council is best placed to make its own decisions about what fees are appropriate for its local area.”
- On Tuesday the Home Office will announce plans to make it illegal to clamp or tow away a car parked on private property.
Currently, a car can be clamped if it is parked in a pub or supermarket car park or at a block of flats or workplace reserved for permit holders or customers, or if the driver has overstayed the time limit in a public car park.
Clamping companies charge exorbitant fees to unclamp the vehicle or to release it after towing it away.
Such practices will become illegal under the new laws, although powers will be given to the emergency services to remove vehicles that are parked dangerously or causing an obstruction.