It's payback time

Back in October the TPA released the first ever report of the total raised in nationwide parking fines. The report was met with much media attention and interest from the public and this was hardly surprising; with so many drivers throughout the UK, many have inevitably been hit with a parking fine. With £328 million raised in fines in 2008-09, parking penalties are a lucrative source of income for councils throughout the UK, however one looks at it.

The idea that parking fines are used as a source of revenue was quickly refuted by some – mainly councils themselves – who argued that if people parked safely and legally parking fines would not occur. Fair point. However, delve in to the figures a little further and you begin to see some worrying trends. For example, Newcastle raised 4 times as much as neighbouring Sunderland – despite having similar daytime populations. This strongly suggests that differences in parking enforcement systems leads to vast differences in fine revenue.

And revelations from a BBC investigation yesterday that five London councils have operated unlawful parking bays adds clout to the argument that parking enforcement systems can be manipulated and altered to extract yet more money from motorists.

Five London councils - Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden, Islington and City of London – may be forced to repay three decades worth of illegal parking fines. It was revealed that road signs were placed in parking bays reserved for foreign embassy staff; illegal unless permission is granted beforehand from the secretary of state for transport. The councils have admitted they did not have proper permission from government and the signs installed were therefore classed as “illegal obstructions of the highway”, according to the Town and Country Planning Act.

Incidentally, four out of five of these councils – Westminster, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, and Camden – obtain the most revenue from parking fines out of all the London boroughs. In fact nearly all of them make it into the top 10 councils with highest levels of parking fines in the UK.

Diplomatic bays with specific legislation attached to them are exclusive to these London boroughs, so they may argue that these illegal fines are just an oversight. But these councils often cite their unique demographics and circumstances - “we have high levels of tourists, therefore fines are high” - as reasons for exceedingly high fines.

But the revelations from the BBC may just confirm long held suspicions that over-complicated and hawkish forms of parking enforcement are designed in such a way to make as much money as possible. If these Councils have such “unique” circumstances, surely they should be especially aware of the legislation to which they have to adhere?

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