Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 140)



  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 acted badly.

  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 comment.

  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 they think?

  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 there.

  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 in isolation.

  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 parking enforcement.

  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 public understanding?"

  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 to you.

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