Britain's parking enforcement 'a mess'

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The Independent Online

Parking policy and enforcement in Britain is "inconsistent and confused", a report from MPs said today.

It is "absurd" that some parking offenders are dealt with by police and others in neighbouring areas dealt with by local councils, the report from the House of Commons Transport Committee added.

"Our present parking system is, frankly, a mess", said the committee's chairman Gwyneth Dunwoody (Lab: Crewe and Nantwich).

She added that parking enforcement contracts with incentive regimes based on the number of tickets issued were "utterly misguided".

The report said lines and signage to indicate the parking rules were often unclear and that many drivers had difficulty understanding and complying with the law.

Some parking attendants were poorly trained and poorly paid, there was inadequate scrutiny of council parking operations by the Department for Transport and the Audit Commission and some councils did not make it clear how to challenge a penalty charge notice.

The committee said that decriminalised parking enforcement - where councils handle matters - must be extended throughout the country, but first the standards of enforcement must improve.

The committee added that it was astounded by the number of penalty charge notices which were issued but later cancelled.

In 2003, this amounted to 20 per cent of the 7.1 million notices issued, a far too high a proportion which indicated that the system was malfunctioning, MPs said.

Also, there was too much variation in performance between local authorities. For example, some councils contest just 6% of penalty charge notices which go to appeal, while others contest 56%.

The committee said failure to comply with parking restrictions was anti-social. It also caused traffic disruption, congestion, delays to public transport, and danger for pedestrians.

MPs added that the scale and cost of illegally parked vehicles had not been estimated for the UK as a whole, but was clearly high. In London it is estimated at £270 million a year in additional delays and accidents.

The committee said it was 15 years since local authorities were given the power to take control of parking enforcement from the police. In that time the regime has succeeded in raising the level of enforcement and compliance.

There was no evidence that a return to criminal parking enforcement by the police would be beneficial. Decriminalised parking enforcement should be applied to all local authorities in the country.

The report said that in looking at parking policies the committee had " all too often" found "inconsistent, poor and creaking administration, lack of drive for reform, poor communications, confusion and a lack of accountability.

"It is a series indictment of the Government, the Department for Transport and the local authorities that we have found this to be the case."

Mrs Dunwoody said: "If a motorist parks illegally on one street they are branded a criminal and will be dealt with by the police and criminal courts. On another street they will have committed a civil infringement and will be processed by the local authority.

"It is high time to move to a single system of parking enforcement. But this roll-out of decriminalised parking enforcement must take place in the context of improved professional standards."

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: "Motorists will be delighted at the Select Committee's robust recommendations. Over-zealous enforcement, confusing signs and lines, and the belief that councils are using parking fines to raise revenue rather than keep the traffic moving should become nothing but bad memories if the Government takes this report seriously."

"I am also delighted that the report tackles the scourge of cowboy clampers. The committee has recommended that wheel-clamping on private land should be treated in the same way as on-street clamping, with a proper code of practice and an appeals system.

"The report also calls on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to stop selling motorists' private details to cowboy clampers, saying they must be 'denied access to the register'."

The AA Motoring Trust said: "This is a damning report that confirms what many motorists know and what the rest suspected about parking enforcement by councils: it is a mess, often unfair and sometimes dishonest."

The trust's head of roads and transport policy Paul Watters said: "We welcome this report, which shows that the time is right for a new approach.

"Among other measures, this should include a system of compensation for drivers put through the mill by over-zealous attendants and shoddy administration.

"This needs to be introduced to help parking authorities focus on good service, fair enforcement, transparency and an understanding that they are dealing with people."

Louise Ellman (Lab, Liverpool, Riverside), who is a member of the committee, said today: "It is time for an overhaul of parking legislation. Inconsistent penalties are one of the greatest sources of frustration and anger for motorists.

"I hope the Government listens to the committee's report and reviews the legislation."