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Parking charges could be illegal, say Carlisle council’s leaders

Imposing car parking charges across 11 shopping centres would be illegal if used to plug budget cuts.

Colin Glover   photo
Colin Glover

Related: On-street parking charges: Don't drive our recovery out of town

Carlisle council leader Colin Glover, his deputy Elsie Martlew and members of the city centre business group believe Cumbria County Council may be acting unlawfully under parking legislation and have called for a rethink.

A Department for Transport spokesman said councils could not make a profit from parking charges or fines.

He said that the Road Traffic Act was not a revenue making act so it would be illegal to “deliberately seek to make profits”.

Mr Glover said the Road Traffic Regulation Act prohibited the use of parking charges for ‘general revenue’.

The county has proposed the charges – with parking meters in some streets and a £20 charge for residents’ permits – to raise around £700,000 a year.

In Carlisle, the move would affect Abbey Street, Castle Street, Clifford Street, Corporation Road, Back Corporation Road, Finkle Street, Peter Street and Rickergate. It has already met with strong opposition from city centre traders who fear their shops could be badly hit, or even close.

“As far as I understand it, the law prohibits use of parking charges for general revenue,” Mr Glover said.

“It might be that they’ll argue they can use income for traffic-related projects – fixing pot holes for instance. But my firm conviction anyway is that this is precisely the wrong time to be doing anything that might reduce footfall through Carlisle city centre. I would urge them to think again about this.”

Mrs Martlew also disputed the legality of the proposed on-street charges.

“The law is clear about this,” she said. “It has been tested in court and councils cannot use on-street parking charges to raise income. Charges are to be used for traffic management purposes.

“In every statement I’ve read from the county council, they have made it clear they need this money to address their budget shortfall. I think they need to go back and check this out before they go any further.”

City business leaders have launched a petition against on-street parking charges saying they will hit shops and town centres already “in crisis”. Other areas affected include Keswick, Cockermouth, Whitehaven and Penrith.

Carlisle City Centre Business Group – launched last year to help reverse the decline in the city centre – has circulated a petition to member businesses, which will be presented to the council.

County highways chief Keith Little told our sister paper the News & Star, which is running a campaign for suspension of the charges: “The county council has made its decision. It has consulted on the proposal, it has debated the issue, it has voted to introduce charging and it has built the savings into its budget.”

Mr Little said the council needed to balance its books.

“The time when Cumbria could afford to be one of the few areas in the country not to charge for on-street parking has gone,” he said.

“In a climate where we’re losing one pound in every four we used to have to spend and the equivalent of £200m a year is being wiped from our budgets by 2018, we need to cover our costs in enforcing parking restrictions.”

“Revenue generated from on-street parking charges will be used to pay for effective enforcement. It can also mean smoother traffic flows, more availability of parking in the highest demand areas and benefits for businesses through an increase in available spaces.”

The council will decide next month on exactly when the new charges will come into force, how much they will cost and how they will be enforced.

A paper submitted to the cabinet last week gave details of streets for six of the towns, but the other five remain in the dark as to where the meters could be placed. This information is set to be included in a further paper to be considered in May.

The petition says the signatories are “strongly opposed” to bringing in charges.

“When many shops have closed and city centres are in crisis, this is the wrong time to be introducing further discouragement to visitors,” it says.

“There seems no traffic management reasons to introduce such charges and it would be wrong for the council to use such charges for the raising of revenue with so little regard to the interests of the communities it serves.”

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said councils could not make a profit from parking.

“If they do make a surplus it has to be spent on transport or the environment,” he added.

Last year London’s Barnet Council was ruled by High Court judges to have illegally set parking charges to shore up its budget.

Although the council has not revealed what charges it will levy, it says they are likely to be higher than the rates in pay-and-display car parks to encourage motorists to use these rather than park on street.

The proposed charges have unleashed a storm of protest from traders and shoppers across the county.

Carlisle’s Conservative MP John Stevenson said he believed the plan to bring in charging was “wholly counter-productive”.

“I believe councils have a duty to make their centres as attractive as possible,” he said.

“They have a duty also to make access as easy as possible.”

Have your say

Maybe I'm the mad one but this seems quite simple to me.
The £ isn't going to pay for what it shouldn't.
It'll pay for the cost of administering on-street parking.
At the minute the cost comes from another pot.
By having this charge it means £ can get spent on things that genuinely matter - kids, old folk, disabled folk etc - rather than to make sure people can park for free.

And there's people complaining about the consultation into all this budget stuff. They must have memory issues, I remember reading nothing but fire budget this, bus changes that, parking changes the other, on the pages of the Cumberland News week after week.
Must've been similar in the rest of the county.

It's pretty simple really.

Posted by Deepak Trout on 21 June 2014 at 08:25

There is a direct connection with the introduction of parking charges and the downturn in the number of visitors and shoppers resulting in the closures of businesses, which results in empty shops and the loss of jobs, rates and amenities. Note the names of Councillors in favour of parking charges and vote them out next time. Councillors work for us.

Posted by Philip Coppell on 20 June 2014 at 08:37

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