Crackdown on illegal parking may go county-wide

A CRACKDOWN on illegal parking which saw more than 15,000 motorists in Ipswich fined last year could be rolled out across the rest of Suffolk, the EADT can reveal.

Elliot Furniss

A CRACKDOWN on illegal parking which saw more than 15,000 motorists in Ipswich fined last year could be rolled out across the rest of Suffolk, the EADT can reveal.

A leading motoring organisation voiced its concern last night after it emerged the new “civil enforcement” approach in Ipswich may go county-wide.

There have been claims the move has led to an increase in the number of drivers fined and that enforcement officers have been given targets to meet.

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Since October 2005 Ipswich Borough Council has undertaken decriminalised parking enforcement in the town, acting as agents to Suffolk County Council.

It has now been proposed that the scheme, which saw 15,274 penalty charge notices (PCNs) handed out in 2008/9, be introduced by the county council across the whole of Suffolk.

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Luke Bosdet, a spokesman for The AA, said that in many places the use of civil enforcement officers (CEOs) had led to a reduction in “discretion”.

He said: “The problem we have got is that some, or quite a few, parking authorities issue instructions to their parking attendants which remove discretion.

“The whole idea of parking enforcement is to keep the traffic flowing and to deal with those who blatantly ignore the traffic laws.

“What has tended to happen is that some of the councils have seen they can gain some income from this and have encouraged their parking attendants to dispense with discretion and issue tickets.”

Mr Bosdet accepted that some fines needed to be issued in order to pay for an enforcement service, but said the aim of parking management should be to allow traffic to flow, not generate money.

In a review of the Ipswich scheme carried out by the borough council, principal transportation officer John Jacobs said claims that enforcement officers were on performance related pay that was influencing the way tickets were handed out “cannot be sustained”.

He said: “The matter of monitoring PCN issue levels is now a very emotive and sensitive issue. There has been much adverse national publicity regarding this subject with claims that CEOs are employed on performance related pay and will therefore regularly issue inappropriate or unjustified PCNs.

“It is clear from the investigations that have been carried out that any such allegations cannot be sustained in Ipswich.”

He said less tickets were being handed out than originally predicted and this was partly because enforcement staff were providing motorists with advice and moving them on rather than just handing out fines.

The review also suggests that the financial expectations and predictions set out in the original model for the Ipswich scheme were “ambitious” and that it will take another four years to balance the books.

In 2007/8 the scheme saw an operating loss of �73,500 but in 2008/9 that had changed to an annual surplus of �29,000 - a net performance improvement of �102,500.

However, the service still has a cumulative deficit since its launch of more than �275,000 and is not expected to reach a break-even point until 2013/14.

Despite this, county council transport officers have now compiled a feasibility study into the proposal which will be presented to the Roads and Transport Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on September 9.

The committee will be recommended that civil parking enforcement be introduced “in one phase” across Suffolk.

The study concludes: “Options for combining with Ipswich civil parking enforcement and other local authorities' off-street parking functions need to be fully explored as these are likely to be the most operationally efficient arrangements.

“Implementation is likely to take of the order of 19 months. A major time element is the reviewing of Traffic Regulation Orders.”

Officers conclude that no further action should be taken until the position with the Local Government Review is clearer, but “in principle” civil parking enforcement should be the direction that authorities in Suffolk should aim for.

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