December 5 2013 Latest news:
Monday, October 21, 2013
Revenue from parking fines in a west Suffolk market town has doubled since a ticketing system was introduced, the EADT can reveal.
Figures from Babergh District Council show that £86,903 was collected in fixed penalties from car parks in Sudbury during the last financial year, compared to £43,414 in 2010/11.
Since the local authority introduced long stay parking charges in its Station Road car parks, even though it is free to park for up to three hours, motorists still have to display a short term ticket.
According to data obtained under a Freedom of Information request, in the past three years since the system was introduced, Babergh has taken more than £200,000 in fines of £55 - or £25 if paid within seven days - issued for offences such as exceeding the time limit or not displaying a ticket for free parking. This equates to an average of around 10 fines a day.
Critics of the scheme say it is “confusing” to visitors, some of whom have written to the town’s chamber of commerce to say being fined has “put them off” returning to Sudbury. Others have accused the local authority of using the fines as a “revenue raiser”.
Babergh’s environmental chief said he was “surprised” by the level of fines issued for what is essentially a “free” car park, but he defended the current ticketing system as the fairest and most cost effective way of enforcing car park rules.
Last year, Sudbury’s town council and chamber of commerce created a business plan with a view to assuming management of the car parks, but Babergh decided to retain control and is currently working with the Sudbury campaigners informally.
Chamber of commerce president John McMillan told the EADT: “The problem seems to be that it’s a confusing ticket regime and people - especially visitors - don’t understand the way it works.
“We have been very concerned about the level of fines being handed out because many people have been penalised for making a mistake – the only thing they did wrong was not display a free ticket when they should have.
“We had a letter from someone saying they won’t be coming back to Sudbury because of it. I think Babergh’s head of services has realised that they can’t carry on with the level of penalties so they have been looking at improving the situation.”
Shop owner David Holland contacted the council about the fines after several of his customers complained. He said: “The amount raised by fining across these three years has risen from £43414 to £86903 but I can’t believe the people of Sudbury have increasingly become a bunch of rule breakers.
“What appears to have happened is more rules have been put in place to deliver more finable offences, many of which are all too easy to commit.
“I believe there are strong grounds to suggest that the rules are about revenue rather than about dealing with safety issues in the car parks.”
But Babergh’s head of environment, Chris Fry strongly refuted the suggestion. He defended the current system and said the council had explored technology that would negate the need for a ticket, but that it would cost a “six figure” sum.
He said: “It is definitely surprising when we are offering free short term car parking that we give out the number of fines that we do, and that people don’t appear to read and understand the rules of the car park.
“Enforcement action is generally the last thing we want to do, but you have to have rules and these must be enforced. We are committed to making it as clear and fair as possible for anyone using the car park, and we have made the signs as prominent and straightforward as possible. The money we get through from fines just about covers our wardening costs so I would totally refute that we are doing it as a revenue raiser.
“We have recently taken a new tack on things such as parking outside the lines or using the wrong exit and we are issuing warning notices first rather than an automatic fine.
“In the next few weeks we will be introducing the capacity for motorists to pay via mobile phone or tablet and this should make it easier for some.”
Councillor Simon Barrett, Babergh’s lead member for economic development, added: “We are one of the only market towns of any size to still have free short-term parking and we should be grateful for that. I don’t think it takes much effort to read the signs and put a ticket on your car. Motorists have to take the responsibility here.”