Parking fines reduction plans

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WIGAN motorists may soon face a cut in parking fines if they are ticketed.

Fixed charge tariffs could be reduced and new grace periods introduced after Government claims that local authorities like Wigan are using motorists who breach parking restrictions as a “cash cow” to offset Whitehall spending cuts.

The Department for Transport is now considering legal options - the consultation ends on February 14 - to abolish the minimum rates for parking penalty charges to allow local authorities to lower fines for minor parking violations. A Wigan town hall spokesman said it wanted time to consider the announcement before deciding how to respond. But she pointed out that the council did not use camera enforcement and had “no plans” to introduce it. And Wigan already implements a five-minute grace period to vehicles parked in excess of their paid stay.

The Government said it also wants councils like Wigan to publish their parking accounts in a bid to create more transparency around fines.

It was responding to a Commons Transport Select Committee report which found “a deep-rooted perception that local authorities view parking enforcement as a cash cow”. It also said it was hard to justify parking fines that are far higher than fines for more serious offences like speeding.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin froze parking penalty charges last month for the remainder of the current Parliament. He also published a public consultation on parking issues, including whether five-minute grace periods, which some councils already operate voluntarily, should be made a statuary requirement. It is also seeking views on whether to end the use of cameras for on-street parking enforcement.

Last year the Local Government Association calculated that nationally councils made a £411m surplus from both on and off-street parking in 2011-12, while the RAC Foundation said the figure was £565m.

Labour’s Louise Ellman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, welcomed the Government’s consultation on the report’s findings.

She said: “There is a feeling that people aren’t being treated very fairly, and that’s what the report was about. Councils do have a lot of discretion and that’s right as it is a local service.

“Councils must be much clearer about what they are doing with their money.”

She added that councils were not legally allowed to put up parking fines in order to raise revenue but that Government needed to make the law clearer for local authorities.

Director of the RAC Foundation Prof Stephen Glaister said parking fines needed to be proportionate and urged councils to be more transparent.