Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Winchester City Council

BACKGROUND

  1.  Winchester City Council is a District Council covering a large part of central Hampshire. The area is mainly rural with the ancient city of Winchester at its geographical and economic core. The City Council has direct responsibility for public off-street parking within our area and acts as agent for Hampshire County Council (which is the statutory highway authority) in having responsibility for on-street parking. In practice we manage a single, integrated operation for on and off street parking including setting local parking policies, deciding parking charges, and enforcing restrictions. The County Council, in consultation with the District Councils, sets strategic parking policies as part of its Local Transport Plan process.

  2.  In May 1996, Winchester City Council was the first local authority outside London to take on decriminalised parking enforcement (DPE) powers. The decision was made in recognition of the need to expand the extent of on-street parking restrictions in Winchester and the inability of the Police and their traffic warden service to enforce an expanded area. The City Council has subsequently been approached for advice by many other local councils considering DPE and wishing to benefit from the experience gained at Winchester.

  3.  Prior to DPE, the City Council was already operating a network of off-street car parks which did and still does generate income (currently £3.75 million gross for 2005-06) that is used to subsidise other transport-related expenditure such as Concessionary Travel, Shopmobility and Dial-A-Ride for the mobility impaired. Decriminalised parking enforcement was not introduced to generate income and although there is a small operating surplus each year on our On-Street Parking Account (currently £37k for 2005-06), this has not been sufficient over the 10 years of DPE to repay the capital costs of setting up DPE and other on-street capital expenditure.

RESPONSES TO TRANSPORT COMMITTEE QUESTIONS

Are local authorities carrying out parking control reasonably, fairly and accountably, and how is performance evaluated?

  4.  Winchester City Council has a clear approach to parking control that we will act reasonably and fairly. In setting up the DPE system, we took the decision not to clamp and/or remove vehicles and after 10 years experience of DPE we are satisfied that was the correct decision for our area. We also decided to carry out enforcement using Council employed parking attendants which ensures that we can exercise effective control over their activities. Our parking attendants do not have targets for the number of penalty charge notices (PCNs) that they issue. We consider all letters of representation made to us as a result of a PCN being issued on their merits, and between 45 and 50% of those representations are accepted. Each recipient of a PCN is able to challenge their notice at the National Parking Adjudication Service. Out of 13,938 PCNs issued by Winchester City Council in 2004, only 16 PCNs were taken to appeal. Of those 16 appeals, 5 were allowed by the adjudicator and 11 were refused. With only 5 appeals allowed compared to 13,938 PCNs issued in 2004, we consider that this is a clear demonstration that our parking enforcement operation is fair and reasonable. Comparable data for all authorities outside London is published in the Annual Report of the National Parking Adjudication Service.

What action would raise the standard of parking enforcement activity and is Statutory Guidance needed to promote consistency?

  5.  Winchester City Council has had the advantage of 10 years experience of DPE, and we have a parking enforcement operation that was well planned initially, was adequately resourced both with parking attendants and back office staff, and has had the support of politicians and senior managers to deliver an effective and fair service. The formal and informal guidance available to local authorities taking on DPE is extensive, and Department for Transport officials, the National Parking Adjudication Service, and local authority networks all provide support. One area where there is an obvious deficiency is in Circular 1/95 "Guidance on DPE outside London" which was published in 1995. This document provides the formal guidance from the Department for Transport and is long overdue for replacement, although it is understood that a replacement is due next year. From the information we receive about other local authorities, there does appear to be scope for improving the standard of parking enforcement in some authorities but this will be part of the approach of all local authorities to ensure that all services are delivered to the highest possible standard. Additional Statutory Guidance is not needed to promote consistency and the local democratic process does ensure that standards are continuously kept under review within each authority.

Is the appeals process fair and effective, and how could it be improved?

  6.  Our experience is related to the Winchester operation and formal appeals through the National Parking Adjudication Service. We consider that the process is fair, and that if any local authorities do not adopt a fair and reasonable approach, the adjudication services will identify any deficiencies in a local authority's system. The Annual Reports of the National Parking Adjudication System have analysed where there are weaknesses in the appeals process and local authorities have amended their systems accordingly. The adjudication services do receive criticism from both appellants and local authorities who may be dissatisfied with the results of appeals, but this is inevitable when both parties in an appeal may consider that they should win that appeal. Most local authorities will have cases where they consider that an appeal decision has been unfair, but that is a demonstration that the adjudication services are impartial. A particular area where we consider that there could be improvements in the adjudication services is that decisions should be consistent even though each appeal is determined by an independent adjudicator. We are aware that the National Parking Adjudication Service is improving the training of adjudicators to achieve greater consistency.

Should local authorities keep the revenue generated from parking charges, and has the opportunity to raise revenue through DPE influenced authorities' parking policy and enforcement activity?

  7.  There is confusion in the question of the revenue from on and off-street parking charges and the revenue from DPE. In the shire county areas such as Winchester, the revenue from parking charges is primarily from off-street car parks and this revenue was a significant income generator prior to DPE. The off-street parking revenue is used to subsidise other essential transport services (but may be used for any purpose) and if this income was not available to local authorities there would need to be additional funding raised from Council Tax income. The income from parking enforcement under DPE is used by Winchester to cover the costs of on-street parking enforcement, and as detailed in paragraph 4 above we have not yet recovered the capital costs of setting up DPE even after 10 years of operation. We do know from other local authorities that visit our DPE operation that many local authorities may initially have a view that DPE will be an income generator, but they will be corrected on this view after a detailed assessment of income and expenditure has been carried out. The need for revenue to be raised through DPE to cover the costs of DPE operation will certainly influence authorities' parking policy and enforcement activity, but for authorities such as Winchester the level of penalty charges which is controlled by the Secretary of State for Transport ensures that DPE will not generate any significant net income to fund other services.

What criteria should be used to determine the level of parking provision that should be provided?

  8.  There are a wide range of criteria that local authorities may use to decide the appropriate level of parking provision for a city or town. Each location has to be considered individually and there is no formula that can be applied to decide the appropriate level. Factors may include the level of traffic congestion in an area, the availability of land in a town centre for parking, the level of public transport options available, the competitive demands of other towns or out-of-town shopping centres, or the options for Park and Ride as an alternative to town centre parking. They will also include wider considerations such as the environmental impact of traffic, the needs of local business or the mobility needs of all sectors of the community.

  In Winchester we have traffic congestion and air quality problems due to the level of traffic flows, we have an historic town centre that is restricted by its traditional road layout and the lack of options for providing extra traffic capacity, and we have a policy that parking should be provided in Park and Ride sites to replace parking capacity within the town centre. There is no "one size fits all" solution to determining the appropriate level of parking provision for a city or town.

What are the wider impacts of current parking policy and illegally parked vehicles, and what role should parking policy play in traffic management and demand management?

  9.  Parking policies must be part of an integrated approach to resolving both transport and wider economic or environmental issues. Parking policies and in particular effective on-street parking enforcement can have a direct impact on traffic management issues such as:

    —  maintaining and, where possible, improving the flow of traffic;

    —  improving road safety;

    —  improving the local environment;

    —  improving air quality.

  There is also a direct link between parking policies and demand management. In a centre such as Winchester where local congestion charging is unlikely to be acceptable, demand management by restricting parking choice, particularly for all-day parking, is an integral part of our parking policies.

  More broadly, our parking policies (including DPE) are an integral part of our approach to supporting the local retail, commercial and leisure economy. Parking policies can help local employers in providing travel options for staff, and help attract customers to local businesses. We take care to balance all needs as best we can in seeking to manage traffic without constraining economic development or hindering mobility for all our citizens.

How can public understanding and acceptance of the need for parking policy be achieved?

  10.  Many people recognise the need for parking policies and parking enforcement but are upset when they receive a penalty charge themselves. The media does inevitably generate negative publicity about parking enforcement due to the large increase in parking contraventions detected since local authorities took on the DPE function. There is a need for local authorities to ensure that they promote their parking policies as being an integral part of solving both transport and environmental issues, but there will be opposition from those members of the public who consider that they have a right to unrestricted car use.

CONCLUSIONS

  11.  The City Council considers that it has sound parking policies, and that it is entirely appropriate that parking policies are primarily set at a local level to reflect the local situation. It is also appropriate that local authorities can set parking charges that reflect the local situation and that income from those parking charges can be used to subsidise the costs of providing other local services. There does need to be wider awareness that parking policies should be complementary to transport, environmental, economic and social policies, and these policies need to be accepted by the public.

  12.  The adoption of DPE by many local authorities ensures that effective parking enforcement is carried out in those areas, and the current system of independent adjudication services ensures that DPE is carried out reasonably and fairly. The primary benefit of DPE is that the income from penalty charges is used to provide an effective level of enforcement compared to the situation when the police were responsible for enforcement and the income from enforcement went direct to central government. It would be a retrograde step if local authorities were not allowed to use the income from DPE to fund the costs of enforcement. The regulation by the Secretary of State for Transport of the maximum level of penalty charges does ensure that most local authorities outside London are unlikely to generate any significant revenue from DPE.

Winchester City Council

23 November 2005





 
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