Councils across Devon & Cornwall making millions from car parking
Westcountry councils have made more than £20 million in surplus profit from their parking activities – for the fourth year in a row – according to new figures.
Councils in Devon and Cornwall generated a combined ‘profit’ of £24.4 million from their day-to-day, on and off-street parking operations in 2012-13, according to figures from the RAC Foundation. This was an increase on the £24.26 million collected in 2011-12 and follows on from above-£20 million hauls in the previous two financial years.
Cornwall Council recorded the 12th largest surplus in the country, behind only London councils, Nottingham, Man-chester and Brighton.
Exeter, Torbay and Plymouth were also all in the top 50, according to the RAC’s data, which also showed that, overall, English councils had made a record surplus from their parking activities. But Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said while profits went up, spending on local roads fell by 9% in the last three years, with road expenditure down by as much as 20%.
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He said: “The Government’s recent decision to consult on changes to parking rules and regulations is timely and we have always argued that at the very least all councils should publish an annual parking report to explain how much money is collected from drivers and, just as importantly, where that cash is going.
“It might be that some of the extra ‘profit’ has arisen because councils’ costs for running parking services have been reduced, but drivers need to know this.
“There’s no disputing the figures we have looked at. They are the numbers the councils themselves submit to central government. What’s more, council budgets show that the surplus for the current year is set to be higher still.”
The data, studied for the RAC Foundation by transport consultant David Leibling, comes from the annual returns that councils make to the Department for Communities and Local Government. The authority with the largest surplus in 2012-13 was Westminster, with £39.7 million. While Exeter, Torbay, Plymouth, Teignbridge, East Devon, South Hams and North Devon each made more than £1 million, Cornwall Council recorded a surplus of £8,078,000. As the region’s smallest council, the Isles of Scilly made no surplus profit.
A spokesman for Cornwall Council said it recently announced a series of trials for cutting season ticket prices and parking charges.
“We have a holistic approach to parking and our aim is to do what is best for the whole town or village, rather than just what is right for the council,” she said. “However, while we are working to ensure that our charges are as fair as possible, without the income from our car parks the council would be forced to make cuts in the services it provides to residents and visitors.”
Rosie Denham, lead councillor for economy and culture at Exeter City Council, said car parking prices would be frozen until April 2015, despite a 13.6% grant cut from central government.
She said: “Exeter is increasingly becoming more and more popular as a visitor destination for shoppers and tourists alike, bringing in more parking revenue. Last year we invested over a million pounds in refurbsihing the John Lewis Car Park and this investment has clearly paid dividends.”
Plymouth City Council said the RAC figures were not accurate. It said it made a surplus of £2,754,065 in 2012-13 and £2,866,203 in 2011-12. A spokesman added: “Overall income from parking has fallen in Plymouth, but we have managed to increase our surplus by introducing new, more customer-friendly technology – for example pay-on-foot systems in car parks – and more efficient ways of operating.”
A spokesman for South Hams District Council said car park revenue for this year had already surpassed its total for last year due to the good summer it had experienced.
'Blacklisted' barber unsurprised
Andy Blackwell has experienced first-hand how councils can earn money from parking fines and fees.
In January this year, the barber from Liskeard revealed he had been placed on a “blacklist” by Cornwall Council after being told off for using a megaphone to warn motorists of traffic wardens.
Mr Blackwell had long campaigned against rising parking fares in Liskeard – one of the towns handed a grant for improvements by retail guru Mary Portas – in an effort to help bring customers into the town centre. But his antics saw him placed on the council’s so-called “cautionary contacts list”, an internal document designed to prevent risk to council employees. He said this week he wasn’t surprised that councils were making such profits from parking.
“I am not surprised it’s happening in any one of the councils in the country,” he said.
Mr Blackwell delivered a 3,000-strong petition to Cornwall Council last year protesting against parking charges and asking that the authority offer two hours free to encourage trade. He also wrote to the relevant cabinet member, Graeme Hicks, urging him to take action.
Other campaigns he has led include placing bright yellow notices on people’s cars which, when opened up, contain a coin to fund their next parking ticket.