COUNCILS are once again feeling the heat from the Government over how much money they are making from parking fines.
Local authorities have been told they need to be more transparent over their fines policies, with councillors again facing accusations from Westminster that motorists are being unfairly treated.
The latest criticism comes on the back of figures recently revealed by the Mail showing that thousands of drivers had fallen foul of traffic wardens in Burton over the last two years.
But council bosses in the town have hit back at the latest claims, insisting that all local authorities should not be tarred with the same brush.
While Julia Jessel, chairman of the joint parking board at East Staffordshire Borough Council, admitted some councils may be guilty of taking advantage of motorists, she took a dim view of people who are breaking the law being portrayed as victims.
Councillor Jessel also pointed to the council’s five-minute leniency period as evidence the authority was not deliberately trying to catch out motorists.
She said: “I think that some local authorities probably are over-enthusiastic with parking fines, but we all know where we should park. We know what the rules are. So if you run the gauntlet, you pay the penalty.”
And many motorists have.
Earlier this month, the Mail revealed the where Burton’s parking fine hotspots were.
A staggering 2,500 parking tickets have been slapped on windscreens in the Coopers Square shopping centre car park alone over the last two years.
Traffic wardens were also out in force in car parks at Burton Place and Meadowside Leisure Centre, as well as in Belvedere Road, as many motorists attempted to dodge paying to park at nearby Burton’s Queen’s Hospital.
But Councillor Jessel insisted the notion that traffic wardens were stood by cars staring at their watches was nonsense.
She said: “I think there are areas where people feel they are being treated unfairly, but we do give that period of grace.
“We’ve all been in the position where we have run over slightly. If you don’t give that five minutes’ grace then I think that’s when people start to resent you.
“But restrictions are there to keep traffic moving and to ensure that people don’t park irresponsibly and take up more time.”
But while councillors insist their parking fine policy is sound, the fact free parking is available in car parks just five miles up the road in Swadlincote has always grated with many people who do their shopping in Burton.
Between April and June last year, East Staffordshire Borough Council budgeted to make more than £100,000 from parking cheats.
Councillor Jessel admitted money gained from parking fines was a valuable source of income to the authority, but said there was nothing untoward about how it went about collecting it, and that it shouldn’t be used as a way of boosting finances.
Council bosses are also unhappy at being potrayed as being secretive over money raked in from parking fines.
East Staffordshire Borough Council has been forced to defend the way it publishes information regarding fines issued and the cash generated from them.
The latest criticism from Westminster comes just a month after proposals to ban ‘spy’ cars and CCTV cameras as a way of catching out motorists emerged.
A House of Commons Committee said it was down to local authorities to change the public’s perception that parking enforcement was used as a ‘cash cow’.
The RAC also said forcing authorities to publish annual reports would ‘illuminate what many drivers regard as the murky world of parking policy’.
Stephen Glaister, the firm’s director, added: “Any area of public policy which generates more than half a billion pounds of annual profit demands to be scrutinised and explained.
“Parking charges are not inherently wrong, but they need to be fair.”
Councillor Jessel said the authority was open about the number of fines it issues, and that results could be easily accessed by the public.
She said: “East Staffordshire Borough Council has an excellent track record of sharing its parking results.
“We have regularly communicated the number of fines that have been issued and the income generated from these fines.
“In addition, the Joint Parking Committee, which meets four times a year, makes its performance reports available on the internet.
“All the reports are available – there is no secret.”