'Fairer' parking enforcement plans unveiled

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Plans to make council car parking enforcement in England more motorist-friendly are being unveiled by the Government today.

Wheelclamping only for the most persistent parking penalty evaders is among the draft guidelines now out for consultation.

Special training for those involved in parking enforcement and an easier-to-follow appeal process are among other plans being considered.

"The Government is determined to see a parking system that is fairer and more consistent," said Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander.

Decriminalised parking enforcement - actions against offenders taken by councils rather than the police - will now be referred to as civil parking enforcement. Parking attendants will be known as civil enforcement officers.

The Government's plans, which are expected to take effect by the middle of next year, include:

* Wheelclamping only for the most persistent parking penalty evaders

* More transparency and information for road users with authorities publishing their policies and reports

* Dedicated training for everyone involved in administering civil parking enforcement from on the street right up to the boardroom

* A more motorist-friendly appeals process with a penalty charge discount re-offered after an informal challenge

* More powers being given to the independent adjudicators to intervene where procedures have not been followed properly

* Regular review of parking policies by local authorities in consultation with stakeholders

* Persistent parking offenders targeted through a nationwide database.

Mr Alexander said: "The Government is determined to see a parking system that is fairer and more consistent. These proposals are a significant stride towards achieving that goal. We have listened to motorists and it is clear that the current system needs to be improved.

"Taken together, the proposals in this draft guidance will strengthen the system of civil parking enforcement and help local authorities tackle local congestion and keep the traffic moving."

Publication of the plans comes after a strong attack on parking enforcement in a report last month by the House of Commons Transport Committee.

The report said parking policy and enforcement were "inconsistent and confused", with the committee's chairman Gwyneth Dunwoody adding that the whole system was "a mess".

The proposals from the Government today refer only to England, with the Welsh Assembly planning a similar consultation exercise soon.

Bob Macnaughton, chief executive of car parking company NCP, said: "We worked with the Department for Transport (DfT) to help them draw up the draft guidelines.

"We welcome the proposals which broadly mirror the working practices NCP has introduced since we entered the parking enforcement market six years ago.

"We realised very early on that we needed a stable and experienced workforce and one of the ways to achieve that is by dramatically increased training standards."

He went on: "NCP staff are trained to those high standards and we are delighted to see the importance of this approach to training being recognised by the DfT.

"The changes suggested by the DfT are in line with changes introduced by NCP's clients in the past few years. We hope that the publication of this draft guidance will reassure the public that the service is being delivered in a professional and diligent manner."

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: "Motorists will welcome restrictions on wheelclamping as the punishment rarely fits the crime.

"Clamping a car for over-staying on a meter makes no sense as the parking place is then blocked for a longer period. Clamping, both on-street and off-street should only be used to target persistent offenders as a last resort. Clamping is a crude activity, which should have been outlawed at the time of Dick Turpin.

"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 are all issues that motorists raise with us.

"We hope that this guidance will lead to a fairer regime."

Councillor David Sparks, chairman of the Local Government Association's environment board, said: "Parking regulations are there for everyone to abide by, to maintain road safety and keep the traffic moving.

"Any money raised from fixed penalty charges is retained locally for funding the enforcement system.

"Any surplus money is spent by councils on local transport investment such as road maintenance and street lighting."

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