MP Eric Pickles has called for traffic wardens to be more lenient. But is this a genuine proposal or party propaganda, asks motor lawyer Jeanette Miller.
Local government secretary Eric Pickles has grabbed headlines after broaching the issue of parking enforcement.
He spoke at the Conservative Spring Forum last weekend and suggested relaxing the present parking enforcement regime.
He suggested allowing motorists to pop into the local shop for 10 minutes without fear of receiving a parking fine.
Such an idea will be undoubtedly welcomed by the nation's drivers.
After all, I am yet to come across any motorist who jumps for joy when they find that dreaded yellow and black plastic package affixed to their windscreen!
Despite solid case law such as Camden v Cran making it clear that parking enforcement as a revenue-raising activity is not permissible, I believe it is commonplace.
In 2009-10 councils in England & Wales generated a surplus - in other words, a profit - from parking charges and fines of £203m, according to a report by the RAC Foundation.
So will Pickles and his crew follow through with relaxing the regime?
Call me a cynic, but surely in these austere times it is simply not financially viable to do away with a system that generates this kind of revenue.
National Motorists Action Group
The National Motorists Action Group (NMAG) is an organisation I support and advise, and was set up to campaign on behalf of the motorist.
It campaigns on a wide range of issues including parking rules, speed limits, fuel costs and duty, problems with the DVLA, roadworks, road building and congestion charging.
NMAG has outlined a number of issues in its response to the UK government Transport Committee inquiry into Local Authority parking enforcement, which closes on Monday, 25 March.
While NMAG welcomes Pickles' proposals, there is a genuine concern that they merely touch the surface of the problems with parking in England and Wales.
Five reasons parking enforcement isn't working
NMAG has submitted a detailed review to the Transport Committee outlining a number of fundamental reasons for the failings in our parking rules:
- There is a serious concern that revenue generation rather than parking/traffic management too often drives enforcement.
- The regulations relating to parking and traffic management are too complex and not easily understood by motorists and council officials and their agents.
- The level of managerial and administrative competence of many local authorities is low and customer relation skills are unacceptable.
- Some councils fail to ensure that they have adequate control systems in places in relation to their bailiffs.
- The checks and balances on council processes are inadequate both to discipline them and to force them to improve their performance.
Time to change the system
I am largely in favour of the whole system of parking enforcement being substantially reviewed and changed.
We have the most expensive parking regime in Europe and could learn a lot from some of our neighbours' more creative and logical schemes.
For example, in Madrid the basic pay and display charge is 2 euros an hour, with a 3 euro penalty payable at the meter for staying an extra hour.
If a motorist exceeds the hour the fine is 40 euros with a 30 per cent discount for paying quickly.
Parking fine costs more than shoplifting penalty
In contrast, at £130, the London penalty for waiting on a single yellow line in a quiet side street is 50 per cent higher than the fixed penalty for shoplifting which is a criminal offence!
There are many questions that remain unanswered about the likely cost of implementing Pickles' ideas.
This includes questions over the loss in revenue it would cause if this reform was to take place, and how to overcome and control problems with parking enforcement.
My concern is that Pickles' decision to highlight these issues is more about generating positive soundbites for his party than being a genuine attempt to change the current regime.
I hope I am wrong.
Jeanette Miller is a senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.
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