Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2005
Q120 Chairman: Apparently one council
did not contest the first 80 appeals which were lodged. That will
create in the minds of the public the conviction that the application
of the charge was simply because the council was seeking to renew
its coffers, will it not?
Mr Lester: I think there are other
reasons why councils do not contest, one of which is that when
an appeal comes through it will be reviewed by a more senior officer,
who might say, "Why on earth are we following this through?"
In some cases we are aware that councils have had backlogs and
have decided not to contest appeals just in order to get over
backlogs. I think that is an unfortunate occurrence when that
occurs, although it is better to do it that way round than the
other way round.
Q121 Chairman: Yes, but it does not
actually say a great deal to the public about either the efficiency
or the clarity of view of the council concerned, does it? Winchester,
I am sure you never do these terrible things?
Cllr Knasel: In reality actually
last year we contested every single appeal and across the non-London
areas I believe it is 35% which are not contested. When you look
behind that figure the bulk of those are new councils in their
first year not contesting the first number of appeals that come
in, taking the view that either the council officers are not yet
geared up well enough to give evidence for appeals to be won,
or actually that there is a bedding-in time for residents to actually
get used to the new system.
Q122 Chairman: I think the difficulty
is that if you are told that the worst London borough failed to
defend its initial decision in 74% of the cases, whereas the best
one only did so in 6%, you do worry a bit about the inconsistency
of application, do you not? Mr Vaughan, did you want to comment?
Mr Vaughan: Yes, I just wanted
to make a comment about not contesting and a comment on Manchester's
approach really. You have had two opportunities to take the right
decision ordinarily before you get to the adjudication service,
so councils (certainly Manchester) will not be taking a decision
without new evidence, and much of that new evidence is when it
is submitted verbally and it is a personal hearing rather than
necessarily what is able to be often read into a letter and formal
correspondence. One of the things which Manchester is piloting
with the adjudication service is telephone appeals at earlier
stages of the process, to have a conversation with someone, which
hopefully will allow the Council to have a greater understanding
in person as opposed to what can be written down and therefore
get the decision right first time.
Q123 Chairman: That is a fairly recent
development, though, is it?
Mr Vaughan: Yes, it is.
Q124 Chairman: So you would not be
able to say how effective it is proving?
Mr Vaughan: No. it is being piloted
at the moment, so I have got no statistics, I am afraid.
Q125 Chairman: Are some of the changes
such as compensating drivers where there is a real case of difficulty
acceptable to local authorities?
Cllr Page: I think we have already
covered that, with respect, Chairman. The answer is in principle
yes, but I think it is for each local authority to have its own
internal procedures for arriving at that decision and for clarity,
again, to be the essence of the day. In my own authority it is
dealt with by a panel of three elected members. In other authorities
it may be delegated to a chief officer, but at the end of the
day I am not aware that any local authority has said, "No,
we will not consider a claim for compensation."
Mr Lester: If I could add one
thing, I think it must be clear that just because a ticket has
been cancelled it does not mean to say that the authority has
Cllr Page: No. Absolutely.
Q126 Chairman: No, I do not think
we were suggesting that, but I think the problem you have all
highlighted is that the general public has to be convinced that
the schemes which you are operating are fair and above board and
can be defended in terms of what you are trying to do locally.
Therefore, the attitude of a council which appears not to contest
any appeals does give the impression that there was no reason
for the original penalty. Now, that is obviously not so. I think
what we are saying to you is that this must throw up in people's
minds a doubt about the scheme. Do you accept that central London
needs more kerbside parking spaces and loading bays because of
the business demands?
Mr Lester: I do not think there
is the space to put them and that is the problem with a number
of the business concerns, that every city has limited kerb space
and it is (particularly in London) not possible to meet all the
competing demands for kerb space which are there.
Q127 Chairman: So how do you encourage
business to comply with your regulation?
Mr Lester: I think each council
has to look at each location quite carefully, and many find it
very difficult because on the one hand you will have businesses
saying, "We want parking spaces for loading," and on
the other hand you might have residents saying, "We need
a residents' parking space there as well." It is very, very
difficult to get the balance exactly right.
Q128 Chairman: Do you think that
in certain cases, for example where people are moving house, there
could be a consistency of direction in the code of conduct?
Mr Lester: There is a general
exemption for house moving.
Q129 Chairman: Well, yes, but we
were also given evidence that these are not respected. We were
told, "It is a complete waste of time appealing against the
tickets issued. The cost immediately doubles. The local authorities
do not accept dispensations allow us to go about our lawful business."
It also says, "One of the worst areas for this practice is
Westminster." Do you want to comment on that, Mr Chalkley?
Cllr Chalkley: Yes, I think I
have to comment. I do not agree with that.
Q130 Chairman: Well, I did not exactly
expect you to agree with that! I just thought you might like to
Cllr Chalkley: Anybody who is
undertaking a removal or is undertaking any kerbside activity
is able to apply for a suspension in advance and providing their
use is legitimate we will grant them a suspension for doing so.
Q131 Chairman: I think we might actually
ask for a little bit more evidence from the persons concerned
and perhaps then ask you to look at that. I do think it would
be interesting to know what proportion of local authorities actually
take a strategic look at parking enforcement schemes. Do you have
any evidence for that, Mr Page?
Cllr Page: The local authorities
take a strategic look at parking as part of their overall transport
responsibilities and the compilation and preparation of local
transport plans will require us to look at parking as part of
our overall responsibilities. Clearly, in a two tier structure
it will vary, but for the unitary authorities we take this very
seriously, as I said earlier.
Q132 Chairman: The local authorities
are very diligent, are they, in asking all the local people what
Cllr Page: In terms of consulting
on local transport plans, I think most local authorities are very
positive and very proactive about this because we recognise the
enormous sensitivities around issues of traffic restraint, parking
policy and the overall environmental objectives. As I said earlier,
achieving modal shift has to be done as part of a package of measures,
of which parking is but one measure.
Q133 Chairman: So you are reasonably
satisfied that the local transport plan will be at least including
those bones of a parking policy which would be adequate for the
needs of the area?
Cllr Page: It is more than bones.
Mr Lester: In London the local
implementation plans are obliged to expressly include parking
plans and the Mayor has to sign these off as having complied with
the Mayor's transport strategy. So it is absolutely expressly
Q134 Mr Martlew: On that very point,
obviously outside London we have got the Government who are giving
grants. Do they indicate to you that if you do not get your parking
charges right or your parking policy right then it could affect
the amount of money which comes to you? They do not put any pressure
on you in that way?
Cllr Page: I am not aware that
parking features in any specific aspect. By way of sanction, no,
there is not, but clearly the performance of the local authority
in achieving its own targets (which it will have agreed with the
Government office and these may be PSA targets as well as its
own specific targets) may well affect subsequent Government grants,
but that would be as a package of measures and not simply taken
Q135 Clive Efford: Just one other
anecdotal thing which has come to my attention. The proliferation
of cctv cameras, some of which (I am thinking of the City of London
now) have been installed for security reasons are now being used
for parking enforcement. This is a particular problem for professional
drivers, lorry drivers, taxi drivers and others, who have to stop
on red routes and in some restricted areas but they are being
caught by cctv and receiving fines, having not been approached
by any enforcement officer.
Mr Lester: Cctv is used for parking
enforcement, but it can only be used effectively where no stopping
is the rule, so that those people who are stopping where it is
not allowed will get penalised. This is typically around major
junctions and you will get different areas. In Victorian and Edwardian
London and big cities you get banks on the corners of junctions
because they were built then because they were prestigious sites.
They have now got cashpoint machines. People will stop there to
use the cashpoint machines. They will say, "I'm only there
for two minutes," and in those two minutes they have blocked
the junction behind them. That is where you have no stopping rules.
You cannot really use cctv where people are allowed to stop because
it is very difficult to work out by camera the exemptions. It
is difficult to spot a valid blue badge, for example. It is impossible
to spot a pay and display ticket and whether it is valid or not.
So they are used where no stopping is the rule.
Q136 Clive Efford: With my former
professional hat on, I can see an immediate problem with that.
A London taxi driver needs to stop in a wide range of locations
where there are parking restrictions and laws in the past have
acknowledged that and therefore they have not been subject to
Mr Lester: If they are allowed
to stop to set down, that will be observed by the camera operator.
Cctv is not automatic, it is operator controlled. So the operator
had to view what is going on through the camera and then decide
if an offence is taking place or not. So if it is allowed for
drivers to stop and for taxi drivers to stop to set down or pick
up fares, that will be spotted. But there are places where even
taxi drivers are not allowed to stop to set down or pick up fares
and in those cases penalties will be issued.
Q137 Chairman: How can we get the
public to support a sensible parking policy and enforcement? Do
councils do enough to either inform or persuade their electorate
of the need for proper traffic management, for example?
Mr Lester: I suspect there is
always more that can be done. We in the ALG do a period survey
of London boroughs' websites with regard to parking and they have
improved immensely over the last two years. They now give reliable,
accurate and full information, whereas about two or three years
ago it was partial and in some cases non-existent.
Q138 Chairman: Yes. It is unfashionable
to say this, Mr Lester, but there are some people who do not have
access to websites.
Mr Lester: Indeed, and there are
other ways in which councils can provide better information. In
the ALG we provide about a quarter of a million leaflets explaining
how the parking enforcement regime works every year and when people
write in saying, "What do I do now?" we sent them a
copy of the leaflet in addition to responding
Q139 Chairman: But it is one of the
things you say to your councils, "What are you doing to improve
Mr Lester: Indeed, we regularly
say to councils that they need to explain themselves more, and
I think most councils have taken that very seriously.
Q140 Chairman: Some of them have
been very slow to implement parking policies which manage road
traffic demand, have they not?
Mr Lester: It is difficult to
know exactly what you do in those cases. In some cases it is easy.
For example, the growth in the number of controlled zones around
rail heads. There have been about a hundred new and extended controlled
parking zones in London in the last eight years since parking
enforcement was decriminalised and it became possible to do that,
and typically they are around rail heads to give priorities to
residents over commuters and that will in its own right have an
effect on reducing demand.
Chairman: Gentlemen, you have been most
interesting. Thank you very much for coming. We are very grateful