Commons Gate

Finding A Space For Parking Policy (HC 748-i)

Transport Committee 7 Dec 2005

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Evidence given by Mr Keith Banbury, Chief Executive, Ms Lynn Witham, Council Member, Mr Peter Guest, Vice-President, British Parking Association, Mr Bob Macnaughton, Chief Executive, and Mr Ian Kavanagh, On Street Director, National Car Parks Limited
Mr Nick Lester, Director, Transport, Environment and Planning, Association of London Government, Cllr Danny Chalkley, Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Transport, Westminster Council, Cllr Tony Page, Transport Portfolio Holder, LGA Environment Board, Local Government Association, Mr Andy Vaughan, Head of Street Management and Parking, Manchester City Council, and Cllr Richard Knasel, Portfolio Holder for Economy and Transport, Winchester City Council
Mr Mike Link, Assistant Head of Highways and Transport, West Sussex County Council, Institution of Highways and Transportation, Mr John Elliott, Secretary to TAG Transportation Committee, Mr Seamus Adams, Assistant Director of Transportation, London Borough of Hackney, Technical Advisers Group, and Mr Tom Franklin, Chief Executive, Living Streets

Q7 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that point, in Cumbria we got rid of all the traffic wardens and to be honest when they brought in the new system everybody was not pleased. I am glad to see they are in St Albans, but they were not in my constituency. Coming back to traffic wardens, are they disappearing throughout the country, or is Cumbria just an exception? Are there less and less of them and there is no control?

Mr Banbury: I think as more and more move to decriminalised parking enforcement there will be less and less traffic wardens and I think there is a conscious effort by the Police not to actually undertake this function as much as they used to, because they have other higher priorities. So as a result, in some areas there is very little enforcement and as a result people park obviously anywhere they wish to.

Mr Macnaughton: I think the question is as much one for the Police Service. We do see that less resources are being put into this area. It is not their priority. They have a very big agenda of things to do and I do not think it comes very high up that list.

Q8 Chairman: Mr Banbury, do you think statutory guidance with a Code of Practice really will raise the standard of parking enforcement?

Mr Banbury: I think so. There have been concerns and we as an association have done a number of things to try and improve the situation, but it needs to go further. We actually introduced - and I sent a copy through - a review undertaken by Richard Charles, who is the ex-Chief Constable in Lincolnshire and he undertook an independent review and came up with 43 recommendations which he passed through to the DfT. We definitely believe there are improvements which can be made. Decriminalised parking enforcement in itself is, I think, a very sensible way to go. It is a parking ticket, it is a parking penalty and to decriminalise it makes eminent sense. It is a much more user-friendly system than going through a magistrates' court.


Q15 Mr. Eric Martlew: You say there are things that need to be changed. Can you give us an example?

Mr Banbury: One of the things which needs to be looked at is the question of proportionality of charges. At the moment you get the same fixed penalty if you overstay on a meter or if you are on double yellow lines. Now, in natural justice there is an argument for saying there should be a differentiation of charges. So that is one of the issues which the group, of which I am a member, which is actually standing and sitting at the moment, is to look at, but all of the other issues as well related to it. So the whole focus perhaps will change in the future. We need to do better in the sense of the way in which we implement it. We need to have stronger rules and we need greater transparency. The two key issues which Richard Charles came to us with was legitimacy - we must do it for the right reasons - and transparency so that local authorities could show to their constituents and the motorists what number of tickets they have had, how they spent the money and what they have used it on.


Q53 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on the blue badge scheme, not the abuse of the blue badge scheme, which we all seem every day, but the actual design of it, there seems to be confusion. Most of the people who have blue badges are elderly and if they put it in the window the wrong way round they end up with a ticket. Is that your experience, and if it is, could we design it better?

Mr Banbury: Could we make the point that I think we need a common-sense approach to that. If it is the wrong way round, then there needs to be local guidance to parking attendants, and one thing we have not spoken about is parking attendants, which I think is a major area in itself. They need to have guidance from the local authority of how they deal with these situations.


Q60 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just a point about the blue badge scheme, that there is a lot of problems. Do you actually have to deal with those problems?

Mr Banbury: Not us, but our members certainly do. The main problem they have with the blue badge is the abuse of it, which is something we have mentioned, and that is a real problem which I think is not for us to tackle, it is for somebody else to tackle.

Q61 Mr. Eric Martlew: Who is it who should tackle it?

Mr Banbury: Well, government in a sense. The reasons why people receive blue badges needs to be reviewed and discussed so that those who need it get it, because we have had examples of people who are using the blue badges of people who are dead and there has been an exercise in Liverpool which has turned up quite a number of these. This is just unreasonable and unacceptable.

Q62 Mr. Eric Martlew: What is the penalty for that?

Mr Guest: With the situation in Liverpool, where there has been a particular problem with counterfeit badges, the City Council has undertaken an initiative with the Police where the motorists are being prosecuted under the criminal law. They are not being dealt with as people who have committed parking offences, they are being prosecuted under the criminal law. I think that is a work in progress. It is having an effect. It is taking these counterfeit badges off the streets and it is giving criminal records to the people who are using them. I am not aware of the exact purpose of the prosecution. I think it is obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, but I am not quite sure.


Q109 Mr. Eric Martlew: We have already mentioned the issue of the 50 per cent discount, but surely there is an unfairness? It often happens that somebody will come along and take the ticket off and by the time they actually get the notice they have no opportunity to pay the discount. Is there a fairness in that?

Mr Lester: If that genuinely happens, there is a problem, but I think it must be up to individual cases to be decided if people make that claim. I am certainly aware that about four or five years ago there was a small café in Brixton and there was a little sign on the counter which said, "If you get a parking ticket, claim you never received it and then you'll get off." So you have to judge each claim as it comes through to see if you think it is right or not.

Cllr Chalkley: That is really where the benefit of digital cameras comes in, if you can evidence the fact that somebody has been issued with a PCN and that is evidence as being on their vehicle ---

Q110 Mr. Eric Martlew: Sorry, can I stop you on that? If the chap puts it on the windscreen and somebody comes around ten minutes later and takes it off, there is no evidence from the digital camera, is there - only that he put it on, not that somebody else came along and took it off?

Mr Lester: You have to judge on the evidence and if somebody writes in on every single occasion they get the ticket and they have never actually received it, then you might wonder whether they are wholly truthful on every occasion. If it is somebody where it is the first time you have ever had any correspondence from them, or maybe they have paid other tickets in the past without question, then there may be more evidence for believing the case they are making.

Q111 Mr. Eric Martlew: We have already heard from the earlier witnesses that there is a belief that overstaying by ten minutes is not as serious an offence as parking on a double yellow line. Do you believe there should be variable fines?

Mr Lester: We have actually done a technical study into the possibilities of differential penalties. What the study found was that it would be relatively straightforward, although to an element subjective, to have differential penalties for different categories of offence such as a higher penalty for double yellow lines as opposed to overstaying on a meter. It is much harder to deal with short and long overstays because the issue is when were they actually discovered. You do not know how long they stayed there, all you know is when the attendant came round. It is not an instant calculation, so it is a bit harder to do that fairly.

Q112 Mr. Eric Martlew: The issue which often comes to light is when an authority goes through the system you are talking about, the traffic orders and the signage are not correct. Do you actually believe that before you decriminalise you should actually do an audit? Are you sure that that happens with the local authorities?

Cllr Page: Yes.

Mr Lester: It is very clear it should happen, but the problems are often about what happens subsequently. Yellow lines get worn away. They start off pristine and complete and at some point you have to take the decision that it is no longer good enough. What is very clear is that where the signs and the lines are inadequate then the adjudicators will throw out any tickets issued. The signs, of course, are those prescribed by the Government, we do not have any choice in the signs which can be used, but if they are not there, if they have been knocked out by a lorry or something like that then the regulation becomes unenforceable.

Q113 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you would support regular auditing of these then?

Mr Lester: I think it is essential that it be regular. Whether it should be every year, as was suggested in the earlier session, I think that is quite an effort, but there is clearly support for regular auditing.

Q114 Mr. Eric Martlew: So if that was to be laid down by Government you would support it?

Cllr Page: I would certainly support the Government also looking at the whole issue of clarity of signage because there is a problem at local level. In the area I represent in Reading we have had a series of adjudications from the NPAS in the last few months, three adjudications in the same area saying that the signs are legal and three adjudications saying the signs are illegal. This has caused us to say to the Department for Transport, "We think there is a problem somewhere else and you need to sort this out," and I think from talking to colleagues there is a problem elsewhere which has arisen.

Q115 Chairman: Are we talking about the roads controlled by the council or roads controlled by the Government?

Cllr Page: We are talking about the public highway but the signage of parking restrictions is laid down in great detail by the Department for Transport and Mr Lester can comment in much more detail about the travails of dealing with that.

Q116 Mr. Eric Martlew: Perhaps the representative from Westminster will have some sympathy with the situation where you have an area, a beautiful street, and unfortunately the signage is ugly. Is there any discretion on areas which are listed?

Mr Lester: No, none at all.

Cllr Page: No.

Q117 Mr. Eric Martlew: Should there be?

Mr Lester: I think it is a tricky balance to strike because on the one hand we are under a lot of pressure from people like English Heritage and the urban conservation movements to reduce the number of signs; on the other hand the motorists are saying there should be more signs and clearer. So there is a balance to be struck there. I think it would be very difficult to have differential signing in different areas because motorists would not know what to look for.

Cllr Chalkley: 76 percent of Westminster is covered by a conservation area and there are clearly competing demands there. Nick has just covered it. Motorists want clear signage and Westminster wants less street clutter.


Q134 Mr. Eric Martlew: On that very point, obviously outside London we have got the Government who are giving grants. Do they indicate to you that if you do not get your parking charges right or your parking policy right then it could affect the amount of money which comes to you? They do not put any pressure on you in that way?

Cllr Page: I am not aware that parking features in any specific aspect. By way of sanction, no, there is not, but clearly the performance of the local authority in achieving its own targets (which it will have agreed with the Government office and these may be PSA targets as well as its own specific targets) may well affect subsequent Government grants, but that would be as a package of measures and not simply taken in isolation.


Q150 Mr. Eric Martlew: You mentioned that decriminalisation has made it better and I look at your example of the City. Surely you can get better parking, but have you noticed that the traffic flow is any different? Is this not a failure of the systems?

Mr Elliott: I think London traffic flow has improved throughout considering ever-increasing demands on it. Without parking control, which we have had since 1994 in London, I think the situation would be very much worse than it is now. Parking is the only measure of controlling traffic in outer London. In central London we have got an excellent public transport system and congestion charging, but in outer London it is working. In other cities, Oxford is a city where they have actually improved traffic flow quite dramatically over the years, despite ---

Q151 Mr. Eric Martlew: But this is the way they implement the scheme other than just fining people?

Mr Elliott: Unless you have a mechanism there to say, "You park there and not there," and follow that up, your policies will never work. That was the trouble before decriminalised parking. We had a third of a million people parking illegally in central London every day and those were a third of a million trips in of extra traffic that we have got rid of, or we have got rid of a significant number of them because of decriminalised parking.

Mr Adams: I think the other added benefits in terms of managing the roadside space, in terms of road safety, keeping junctions clear and pedestrian accessibility are paramount and that is themed through with the introduction of CPZs. It is the enforcement around those junctions. It is clear where there are no CPZs in built-up areas those junctions are parked up ---

Q152 Chairman: We try to avoid initials, Mr Adams. CPZs may be very close to you, but not to us.

Mr Adams: I do apologise, controlled parking zones.

Q153 Mr. Eric Martlew: If we can go on from that, the situation is that people get very annoyed if they are charged for overstaying, yet people do not appear to be implementing it outside schools with the zigzags? Is that a correct assumption?

Mr Adams: I would say not, and certainly in the borough I represent ---

Q154 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am a bit worried that a lot of it is London-orientated. It is much better than the rest of the country, I will give you that, but it is not the norm.

Mr Adams: I think road safety is paramount. Certainly for schools, zigzags, it is paramount that it is enforced rigorously and certainly in the authority I represent we rigorously enforce that and it is paramount in terms of road safety.


Q157 Mr. Eric Martlew: I have not been on the Committee very long, but obviously I am very jealous of the way in which London manages its traffic. It has already been mentioned that it is against the rules to park on a pavement in London. Do you believe that should be spread out throughout the country?

Mr Elliott: Yes.

Q158 Chairman: You are really pleading for consistency, are you not? If we had a code of conduct with an acceptable series of these very basic points, you are really pleading for consistency across all authorities, are you not?

Mr Franklin: We are saying that what works should be adopted across the country.

Q159 Chairman: How do we define what works? If you have got that formula in your pocket, you will be a very rich man because you will be a consultant to every government department I have every known.

Mr Franklin: We do try, but to give you an example, we undertake community street audits with communities where we go out and we are looking at the streets and looking at what is good and what is bad about them, and we see a very big difference between what happens in London and the rest of the country. In the rest of the country communities are telling us, and we see it with our own eyes, that pavements are blocked. We have got the Disability Discrimination Act in this country, which means that public transport is becoming more accessible, which means that buildings are becoming more accessible, but it is no good if the pavements themselves in between those two are not accessible and what we are finding is that it is not just people in wheelchairs, it is parents with buggies and people with shopping having to go into the road to get past parked cars and there is absolutely no reason for it.

Q160 Mr. Eric Martlew: To come back again to where London seems to do it very well is with the bus lanes and the parking in bus lanes. Are you of the opinion that London is the only centre which actually controls it properly and the rest of the country is lagging behind? Is that the view?

Mr Elliott: No. I think London has an advantage because it has had decriminalisation since 1994, so it has had a longer time to get its act together. It has also been in the traffic limitation business since 1958 or thereabouts when the first meter appeared. Lots of historic cities like York, I mentioned Oxford before, and Cambridge are very good examples where there is a traffic imperative to get this right. Without then the follow up with enforcement it all falls apart.

Q161 Mr. Eric Martlew: The good practice is not spread throughout the country, is that what you are saying?

Mr Elliott: I think it is a case of what is the priority in an area. Lots of areas do not have the sorts of traffic pressures which the big cities, the historic cities or the city centres of major conurbations have, so it does not case the same sorts of problems when people do break the laws of traffic flow and the general management of transport. So it is not just London. London has had longer at it, but it is a lot of other places where they have a real issue, where it becomes less of an issue. It is more difficult for you folks as representatives of people to push things like this at a local level.

Q162 Chairman: That is far off the point though, Mr Elliott, is it not, because you have just assured me that decriminalisation should exist all the way across the United Kingdom. How are they going to pay for it, because smaller councils in smaller towns are going to find it rather difficult, are they not, to actually pay for recruiting, for maintaining a team of attendants and to maintain all the back-office staff with all the equipment which is going to be necessary?

Mr Elliott: It is much harder in smaller authorities and I think small authorities have got to get together in some way, either under a country banner or get joint working arrangements.

Chairman: We await with great interest the effect of that!

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB