I make no secret of, or apology for, my hatred of Decriminalised Parking Enforcement (DPE). Prior to DPE parking enforcement was carried out by police Traffic Wardens but the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1991 opened parking enforcement up to local authorities using Civil Enforcement Officers (CEO). A lot of councils applied for DPE in the early 2000′s, my own County Council here in Cumbria being one. Cumbria County Council then subcontracted enforcement to the Borough Councils. These contracts have been tumultuous affairs, often leaving whole Boroughs with no parking enforcement at all.
Here in Cumbria time-restricted zones were introduced which require a time disc to park, residents are entitled to a residents permit to exempt them from the restrictions. These are free – for now (see here).
When parking controls were in the control of the police, a Traffic warden made his merry way around a whole town dishing out Fixed Penalty Notices to those parked causing an obstruction or on mandatory restrictions – yellow lines, zigzags, etc. A driver then had the option to accept the fine or protest his innocence in a court of law with all the freedoms that one enjoys in the British justice system. Under DPE, a driver has an appeal route through the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, but one must question the ‘independence’ of such an authority when it is funded by 60p from every Penalty Charge Notice issued and the adjudicators are not bound to abide by either case law or previous adjudications.
DPE has turned parking into a business, with councils raking in £millions. Draconian parking restrictions are contributing to the death of our town centres and, while there was a time that people were prepared to pay a small fee to use an off-street car park to free themselves of such restrictions, Allerdale now has the highest off-street parking charges in Cumbria. But the worm is turning, and people are no longer prepared to accept it
The aim of any parking restrictions should be to educate drivers, thus reducing the need for enforcement as time goes on. As this happens you would expect parking services departments to shrink, but here in Cumbria it’s quite the opposite. Councils see parking as a revenue stream and as that revenue decreases the pressure mounts to replace it, and so the zones grow and multiply. These zones are now so vast and unwieldy they have became difficult to manage and expensive to administer. An inability to effectively manage these parking restriction across such a huge area is an affront to the residents that have to endure these, quite often ridiculous, restrictions. A lack of resources means that quite often the signs and lines that allow the authority to enforce restrictions are not legally enforceable at all – but that doesn’t stop the authorities trying! The small few that do appeal are nothing compared to the many that just pay up.
I have now spent in excess of three years fighting unenforceable lines and signs and have had innumerable Penalty Charge Notices cancelled, both my own and for others. Each time one is cancelled, it’s always on ‘goodwill’, never an admission of wrongdoing – even when signs or lines are updated afterwards. One such example is the re-marking of Workington Town Centre in October 2010, following my successful campaigning. I highlighted serious deficiencies in signs and lines, enough to render unlawful many thousands of penalties issued previously – not one penny was refunded.
The original restrictions were marked in 2009, and in 2010 the News and Star reported that Cumbria County Council had put aside £50,000 for the remedial works that were due to be completed by that November. Despite a whole department devoted to parking in each of the seven councils, serious deficiencies remained and in May of this year I ended up with 6 Penalty Charge Notices for £70 each.
Today I received a verbal decision – all six appeals were upheld in my favour. I appealed on a number of technical points, some of great enough significance to render a decade of penalties unlawful across a whole county, and a full written decision on all points may take two weeks.
The council didn’t turn up, which is not unusual these days and as a taxpayer I see this as an affront. If they thought their case strong enough to allow the taxpayer to pick up a bill of many hundreds of pounds, surely they should be there to defend it?
The onus in these cases is on the council to disprove the appellants case, not vice versa, and these particular appeals were upheld initially on the basis that the council could quite simply not be bothered to provide sufficient evidence that their signage or Traffic Regulation Order were compliant, despite having 5 months to prepare and two months notice of an adjudication date.
At one point I put these fraudulent actions down to ignorance of the law, I then moved onto incompetence – I now believe that their actions are borne out of nothing but contempt for those that pay their salaries.
Mark Jenkinson is the Chairman of UKIP West Cumbria and a local community activist. He is a married father of three and still lives in Workington where he grew up.