Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Local Government Association

  1.  The Local Government Association represents local authorities in England and Wales responsible for local policy on and enforcement of regulated on and off street parking. The Association's improvement agenda promotes high standards of management in all local government activities and essential freedoms for authorities to allow them to implement polices which are most suited to local circumstances.

  2.  There are many and growing pressures on limited road space and different categories of road user compete for their share of this space, both to move and to park. Especially in historic towns and cities where there are limited opportunities to make alterations to their physical character, these pressures may require relatively drastic and innovative measures to be tried in order to make the most efficient and effective use of the space available, whilst at the same time maintaining the local environment and economy. Similar situations can arise in scenic rural tourist destinations.

  3.  The former local authority associations sought the provisions contained in the Road Traffic Act 1991, which implemented decriminalised parking enforcement across London and allowed a similar procedure to be adopted by traffic authorities outside London upon application and approval. The key element of civil enforcement is that there are no longer fines as such, although the media and others continue to refer to them as such, but penalty charges which are retained locally for funding the enforcement system and with any surpluses being reserved for related transport investment. This change followed from concerns in the 1980s that police resources dedicated to parking enforcement and traffic management in general were declining and that in some areas essential additional parking regulations might not be enforced effectively. A more direct relationship between the authority making the traffic regulation orders and subsequently their enforcement was felt likely to be more effective. The growing pressures on police priorities seem to have upheld the wisdom of those moves. The guidance on management of the Act's provisions outside London is set out in the statutory guidance published by the former DoT in 1995 "Guidance on Decriminalised Parking Enforcement Outside London—Circular 1/95". The Transport Committee will have been aware when calling this inquiry that the DfT currently is chairing a working party on parking enforcement, including participation by the adjudicators, with a view to updating the statutory parking enforcement guidance, especially in the light of the provisions contained in the Traffic Management Act 2004.

  4.  When the Committee makes reference to public concerns over enforcement activities it should be aware of the clear distinction between local authority on-street and regulated off-street car parking enforcement activities and those of private enforcement companies operating on private land, and which are in no way connected with local traffic authorities' statutory duties and for which they receive no income.


  5.  Parking enforcement can be a very visible "outside my front door" activity and the Transport Committee will be well aware that any perceived unfairness can very quickly be reflected in local democratic processes. Campaigns both for and against the extension of residents' parking schemes, and their enforcement, can be vociferous. The 1991 Act civil enforcement provisions include the independent adjudication service which has built up and maintained an independent role at least as strong as the Transport Committee's independence from transport ministers. Individual traffic authorities may submit local evidence on their experiences with the way that the adjudication service deals with motorists' appeals brought before it.


  6.  As mentioned above there is already well established national statutory guidance for the management of civil parking enforcement and this is currently being radically updated to take account both of developments over the past decade and of more recent legislation. As far as local authority enforcement staff are concerned, some have a difficult job dealing with potentially irate motorists, who may feel that regulations, in general, should not apply to them. Training of enforcement staff in customer relations will be important. Unfortunately it appears that an "on the street" consistency of approach can sometimes be interpreted as inflexibility. Media reports may not always set out a balanced picture in reporting individual cases.


  7.  The independent adjudication bodies set up using the provisions of the RTA 1991 and the local government Ombudsman have made proposals based on their experience to clarify any apparent inconsistencies which may appear in individual authorities' appeals procedures. Again, the forthcoming revised statutory guidance should address any outstanding issues.


  8.  As mentioned above the existence of the penalty charge revenue stream is an essential pre-requisite for effective civil enforcement of parking or other traffic offences. Enforcement activity is an intensive revenue cost on the authorities and the Committee will be well aware that revenue spending resources for local government through the RSG system for transport and highways have either fallen behind or barely kept place with inflation in recent decades. There are likely to be wide variations in set-up and running costs for civil enforcement schemes based on local geographical circumstances. The Association does not have the resources to collect operational cost information for individual council services such as this but understands that outside London it is unlikely that any significant surpluses are made over and above the running costs of enforcement services. It is not clear whether the Committee's comment in its press notice that "parking fines (sic) raised nearly £1 billion in 2004" takes set up and running costs into account.


  9.  Local authorities operate their traffic management strategies under a variety of external limitations, including the constraints of planning guidance, their duties under the Traffic Management Act 2004, the limitations of the local physical environment, conflicts between different classes of road user for any space available and the seemingly inexorable increase in the number of motor vehicles on our roads. The competition for road space may lead to more parking restrictions or to a need for better enforcement, for example of bus and cycle lanes introduced in pursuit of wider transport policies. There can be conflicts between commuter and resident parking near to public transport interchanges, so every location will have its own factors affecting not only the level of provision to meet valid needs but also the level that physically can be provided.


  10.  Whilst this question is addressed in more detail below, the Committee will be aware of the growing importance of public safety and security in developing parking and traffic management policies which will no doubt have impacted on MPs and others wishing to park in or on-street near to Parliament and elsewhere. Security and safety implications may not always appear obvious to motorists.


  11.  Effective traffic management policies have always required the deployment of those elements from a basket of measures which are most suited to changing local conditions. Some of these will be parking elements, and there is the wider workplace parking levy tool set out in the Transport Act 2000, as yet to be taken up. In view of geographical and other differences around the country the degree to which parking is restricted, priced or rationed will vary. Parking policy can be linked to public transport policy, for example in the development of park and ride sites and, where feasible given the general lack of local authority influence on bus operators since the Transport Act 1985, which the Committee has noted in recent inquiries, co-ordination of parking fee and public transport fare increases.


  12.  The terms "the public" and "the motorist" are not synonymous and the more extreme motorist lobby sometimes appears to give the impression that it is both central and local government's duty to facilitate drivers to travel as fast as possible and park outside the door of their destination, at no cost. The Association believes that the public perception, both of motorists and non motorists is that balanced, fair and effective parking policies within Local Transport Plans are essential for the efficient operation of the local road network and maintenance of the local environment.

September 2005

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