Parking fine controversy flares up yet again

The official figures showing that local councils in England recovered over half a billion (£594 million) in parking fines during 2012-13 has predictably lead to massive complaints from virtually all areas of society.

The sums recovered are simply being subsumed into local government finances where they are used to fund a variety of no doubt laudable council activities and projects.

However, many motoring and professional freight transport associations, as well as many private motorists themselves, are increasingly seeing this as effectively a stealth tax. The sums are now so vast as to get even those of a supportive disposition to question whether or not the councils are now seeing this as simply another opportunity to treat the motorist as a cash-cow.

Their objections appear to fall into a number of different categories:

  • the sums recovered are not being re-invested in freight or private driver motoring improvements;
  • the penalties are being levied in an increasing number of cases where the driver concerned had every right to be there, as it was connected with the purposes of loading or unloading;
  • councils have apparently abandoned their use of such fines as a way of dealing with legitimate illegal parking and now simply see it as an opportunity for mass revenue generation.

Whether you are a private or professional driver, it does now seem to be the case that it is now far easier to drive into and park in the centre of just about any European City than it is in London. The problem is hardly better in other major cities around the UK such as Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and so on.

So, why is it that many drivers find it relatively straightforward to drive into the very centre of say Paris, park up and then unload without a problem but when attempting to do so in London they are instantly descended upon by a veritable host of wardens and police?

There is, of course, no easy answer to that question.

Few responsible professional drivers would dispute the fact that a small minority of inconsiderate goods vehicle drivers have, at times, tarnished the reputation of the industry by parking appallingly inappropriately in major city centres. Private motorists are not immune from that either and in such cases nobody seriously questions the right and duty of the local authorities to issue the appropriate penalty notices.

However, in a significant number of cases it is difficult to escape the view that over-zealousness motivated by the need to generate income is behind many equally appalling and inappropriate reactions from the authorities to commercial drivers simply trying to do their job in situations where there was no impact on the public or surrounding access at all.

As the feelings mentioned above make clear, commercial deliveries are part of the lifeblood of the major cities and trying to choke these off by taking punitive action against the drivers and the companies concerned is patently absurd.

It might be the case that some form of central government intervention is required in order to introduce a sensible balance into the way fixed penalty parking notices are being issued to professional vehicles and perhaps to take the matter out of the hands of local authority zealots.

It might also be advisable to try and force local authorities to use the sums recovered only for the purposes of improving road and parking facilities.

Unless action of this nature is taken, parking fines will continue to have a detrimental effect on British industry and city centre commercial life. That would run the risk of making us a laughing stock with the major European cities that we are in direct commercial competition with.