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Councils reap benefits of illegal parking

Mark Rowe examines the 'urban myth' of ticket targets
THE motorist's enemy - the parking attendant - is so zealous in his efforts that London's drivers paid pounds 120m in fines last year. More than 3.5 million tickets were issued in Greater London - one for each car in the capital.

The revenue from fines for parking on double yellow lines, in permit- only areas and at expired meters is providing some local authorities with bumper sums to fill their coffers, with one council generating pounds 27m.

The intensity of the clampdown on illegal parking is reflected in the fact that, according to the RAC, there are just 2.3 million registered drivers in London. This rises to 3.5 million when commuters and tourists are included. One in three drivers in London is likely to receive a fine each year.

If issuing parking tickets were an Olympic sport, Westminster City Council in London would be displaying a clutch of gold medals in its town hall. Last year it issued 807,030 tickets, amounting to more than a tenth of all parking tickets handed out each year in Britain. The evangelical zeal with which Westminster pursues its ticketing policy was highlighted when it dispatched a bailiff 50 miles to Sittingbourne in Kent to pursue an unclaimed ticket.

As far as parking tickets are concerned, London's boroughs lead the country in terms of volume, with many councils outside the capital relying on police to issue tickets. In the West Midlands, 194,000 tickets were issued. In London, Westminster not only issued more than 800,000 tickets, it also clamped 23,304 vehicles. Other high-octane ticket issuers include Camden (261,208 tickets); Kensington and Chelsea (221,087); Hammersmith and Fulham (135,336); Ealing (114,061) and Waltham Forest (112,972).

At the other end of the scale, Barking and Dagenham (22,344), Havering (29,220) and Kingston (39,982) would seem safer places to park on a yellow line.

Parking tickets can bring in handsome sums of money. Westminster received pounds 27m last year, Kensington and Chelsea pounds 7.5m, Camden pounds 5.4m and Hammersmith and Fulham pounds 4.9m. The money is used to improve roads and public transport and is ring-fenced, preventing it from being used to subsidise other services or lower council tax.

The vast sums often at stake have prompted accusations that councils seek to maximise income by setting contractors targets for how many tickets they should issue, a claim fiercely denied by Westminster.

"It is absolutely not the case," said a spokesman. "Wardens issue tickets when they see an infringement. They are given no incentives to do so. Our level of ticket enforcement reflects the number of offences committed."

Despite denials, there remains widespread suspicion that some London councils do set targets.

"If they're private contractors then I'm sure it's the case some have been offered incentives to issue more tickets," said a spokesman for Hammersmith and Fulham council.

"We're not out to make huge sums, unlike other boroughs who are more professional about it. Our annual budget is pounds 183m, so while tickets give us a sizeable sum we could make much more if we wanted."

Another suspicion is that councils are now so confident they can receive a certain sum in revenue from parking tickets that they apply to banks to receive the amount in advance in the form of a loan. Hammersmith and Fulham says that it does not do this.

A spokesman for the Transport Committee for London, which oversees parking enforcement, defended the soaring levels of tickets. "It's nothing to do with one council being more enthusiastic than another. There's revenue in it for them, although others don't make any money.

"It's an urban myth that councils offer incentives. The rates are in proportion to the number of cars coming through with no place to park. That's why a tiny area like the Corporation of London issues 100,000 tickets. It's law enforcement. In an ideal world we wouldn't issue any tickets."