'Government guidance must end motorists' frustration with parking enforcement'
The Transport Committee's report on Parking Policy and Enforcement was published today. The Committee concluded that decriminalised parking enforcement must be extended throughout the country. But that first the standards of enforcement must improve.
Failure to comply with parking restrictions is antisocial. It also causes traffic disruption, congestion, delays to public transport, and danger for pedestrians. The scale and cost of illegally parked vehicles has not been estimated for the UK as a whole, but is clearly high. In London it is estimated at £270 million a year in additional delays and accidents.
It is fifteen years since local authorities were given the power to take control of parking enforcement from the Police. In that time the regime has succeeded in raising the level of enforcement and compliance. There was no evidence that a return to criminal parking enforcement by the Police would be beneficial. Decriminalised parking enforcement should be applied to all local authorities in the country. But first performance must be driven up to a consistently high standard.
Chairman of the Committee, Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP said:
"Our present parking system is, frankly, a mess. If a motorist parks illegally on one street they are branded a criminal and will be dealt with by the police and criminal courts. On another street they will have committed a civil infringement and will be processed by the local authority. It is high time to move to a single system of parking enforcement. But this roll-out of decriminalised parking enforcement must take place in the context of improved professional standards."
"For instance, enforcement contracts with incentive regimes based on the number of tickets issued are utterly misguided. Such incentives squeeze out sensible traffic management objectives and serve to undermine legitimacy and public confidence in civil enforcement."
In particular, the Committee was astounded by the number of Penalty Charge Notices which are issued but later cancelled. In 2003 this was 20% of the 7.1 million notices issued. These are cancelled for a variety of reasons, and while some margin of error may be inevitable, this is far too high a proportion and indicates that the system is malfunctioning. There is also too much variation in performance between local authorities. For example, some councils contest just 6% of Penalty Charge Notices which go to appeal, where as others contest 56%.
There are many shortcomings in the existing system:
Traffic Regulation Orders underpinning traffic regulations are too often deficient, and at worse illegal;
lines and signage meant to indicate the rules are often not clear, with the result that many drivers have difficulty in understanding and complying with the law;
poor training and remuneration for parking attendants is not compatible with recruitment and retention of an appropriately professional workforce;
local authorities' duty to exercise discretion in considering challenges by motorists is not always properly discharged;
there is no requirement on councils to meet performance standards, such as responding to queries and representations by motorists within a set timeframe;
there is inadequate scrutiny of council parking operations by the Department for Transport and the Audit Commission; too few councils publish an annual break-down of accounts and operations. This omission fuels the suspicion that civil parking enforcement is driven more by revenue-raising than traffic management objectives;
many local authorities do not make sufficiently clear to motorists the process for challenging a Penalty Charge Notice; nor do all re-offer the 14-day discount after representations have concluded;
too little effort is made to ensure motorists are aware of their ultimate right to appeal to an independent parking adjudicator. Recent research found that 53% of people who had had their representations to the council rejected but who had not taken their cases to the adjudicator were unaware of the National Parking Adjudication Service. In the interests of justice the profile of this tribunal and the London Parking and Traffic Appeals Service must be raised;
too little attention is given to the potential of well-managed parking strategies to contribute to traffic management objectives. Parking strategies should be underpinned by sound traffic management objectives which take into account the needs of residents, businesses, delivery vehicles, and visitors; which must include people with disabilities.
Such problems in local authority parking administration cause dismay and anger, waste resources, and bring the decriminalised parking regime into disrepute. These problems need to be put right by local authorities.
Chairman of the Committee, Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP said:
"Appropriate parking regulations properly enforced are vital to good traffic management. They will also create a more pleasant street environment for all. This has most chance of success through the decriminalised parking enforcement regime. Before more local authorities take over parking enforcement powers from the Police however, the Department for Transport must do more to ensure that the standards of enforcement are improved. Unfortunately, we heard that the administration of parking enforcement by councils was too often inconsistent, with poor communication, confusion, and a lack of accountability. This must change."
The report calls on the Department for Transport to reflect best practice in the draft statutory guidance which is expected to be published soon.
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP concluded "The Department must not miss this opportunity to encourage a 'step-change' in parking enforcement arrangements country-wide through the publication of detailed statutory guidance."
Press Notice 51/2005-06 22 June 2006
Dr John Patterson
Clerk of the Committee