JOIN OUR BIG DEBATE: Councils rake profits from parking fines and charges

Haringey's parking charges will rise from next year if proposals are approved.

Haringey's parking charges will rise from next year if proposals are approved. - Credit: Archant

Local authorities are coining in record sums in parking fines and charges which critics say is out of all proportion to any wrongdoing by motorists. Town Halls are accused of using the revenue to balance their books rather than keeping traffic moving. They made a combined profit of £667 million from parking last year, according to RAC figures. Nearly half the revenue alone is from squeezing motorists in London. Newham Council in east London turned over £16m last year, the RAC says, with a record £7.2m profit. We asked Newham for a response, but were told the lead council-member didn’t want to reply—so none of the other elected members would give an opinion either.

Phillip Gomm [RAC Trust] and Rupert Lipton [National Motorists' Action Group]

Phillip Gomm [RAC Trust] and Rupert Lipton [National Motorists' Action Group] - Credit: Archant

So instead, we have turned to the motoring industry itself to try and fathom out why so much dosh is being skimmed out of the motoring public. Phillip Gomm, from the RAC Trust, explains...

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Councils call it a surplus. We call a profit. Whichever way you look at it, £667 million is an eye-watering record amount of money. Yet that’s how much local authorities made from parking activities in the last financial year.

Half the total, £296m, is generated by the 33 London boroughs, up 17pc on the year before—from Newham to Tower Hamlets, Westminster to Camden. Only one local authority made a loss.


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The jump in profits is not just down to increased income from penalty charges, parking fees or residents’ permits – but also a marked reduction in running costs.

Among London drivers, however, the suspicion remains that parking policy is not about managing traffic and congestion, but raising money to fill the financial black holes authorities face.

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We at the RAC Trust have great sympathy for local authorities seeing their budgets shrink annually—but little sympathy with those tempted to tax the motorist to balance their books.

In fact, legislation outlaws using on-street parking charges to balance the books, as Barnet discovered in 2013 when found guilty at the High Court of raising residents’ parking charges simply to shore up its balance sheet.

Nobody in their right mind would want a “parking free for all”. We need restrictions and charges.

But we also need to see that these are fair and transparent—that when people transgress the rules they are proportionately punished.

The accounts local councils provide the government for scrutiny shows that in Newham a whopping and barely credible 97 per cent came from fines. Perhaps this was a mistype on the spreadsheet. In neighbouring Tower Hamlets it was 40pc.

To be fair, both authorities publish annual parking reports to give some insight into their parking policies. Not all councils do this.

Can you imagine any other business generating profits of £667m not explaining it to its shareholders?

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The National Motorists’ Action Group fears that the motoring public is being used as a cash cow by town halls, a soft touch, an easy way to raise revenue. The group’s managing director Rupert Lipton unravels how it all happened...

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Once upon a time, the motor-car was the preserve of the wealthy and everyone else could just get out of the way.

Then in the middle of the 20th century, cars became—and still are—a revolution in personal mobility and freedom.

But then a rather strange thing happened. Even though millions of us became regular drivers, we got brainwashed into thinking that cars were “bad”.

Cars, like many things in modern society, have their problems. But how many of us would like to go back to cars being only the convenience of the wealthy?

They are a pinnacle of human technological achievement that allows us to move around with ease. Why have we forgotten this?

We were all persuaded after the “oil crisis” of 1973 that cars are “bad” for the environment.

Recent figures from TfL, however, show that petrol cars are responsible for just 1.5 per cent of nitrogen oxide emissions and four per cent of CO2 emissions in central London.

That’s a mere fraction of the contribution of other vehicles. So how “bad” are cars really?

We have been brainwashed and politicians and lobbyists seem to think that it is okay to drain the wallets and purses of motorists at every opportunity. It is not.

If society needs money—which of course it always does—it should be raised fairly, transparently and democratically through taxation.

It should not be raised through the industrialisation of parking and traffic enforcement.

Once they have taxed us, it is our elected representatives’ responsibility both at the Town Hall and in Parliament to serve the public.

That means making our lives easier—not extort money from us just because we own cars.

That means reasonable control of parking and not punishing the innocent mistakes of drivers with fines bigger than those given to shoplifters and thieves.

When boroughs like Newham pull in revenues of £7.2 million every year from motorists in parking charges alone and neighbouring Tower Hamlets makes £8.3m, then something really is bad—but it’s not the car.

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