12. In the 1980s, local authorities pressed the Government to be allowed to assume responsibility for parking enforcement from the police. The authorities recognised that this was a priority for them in order to meet local transport objectives but was not of equivalent priority for the police.The Association of London Government told us that "In many parts of London, there was parking anarchy and London boroughs wished to end that. Estimates in the early 1990s were that less than one per cent of illegally parked cars received any form of penalty." The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea described the frustration of residents before parking enforcement transferred from the police to the council:
14. There has tended to be a significant increase in enforcement levels where decriminalisation has been introduced. For example, in London the number of Penalty Charge Notices issued annually jumped from about two million to six million following decriminalisation. Local authorities’ celerity in enforcing traffic regulations is reflected in the Home Office statistics for 2003. In 2003, local authority parking attendants issued 7,123,000 Penalty Charge Notices for obstruction, waiting and parking offences in 75 authorities in England and Wales, plus 33 London boroughs; while the police issued 1,043,000 Fixed Penalty Notices in the other 313 authorities where parking enforcement remains under their control.
15. Out of a total of 388 local authorities in England, at the time of writing 45 per cent of local authorities operate civil parking enforcement powers, including all the London boroughs. Each year more authorities continue to apply. Three of the 22 unitary authorities in Wales have adopted the civil parking enforcement powers. While in Scotland five of 32 councils have done so. Northern Ireland is due to implement decriminalised parking enforcement in October 2006. For those local authorities that have not yet applied for civil enforcement powers, parking enforcement continues to be the responsibility of the police.
Civil parking enforcement
16. Implementing a decriminalised parking enforcement scheme requires considerable initial investment. In some areas, for example, more sparsely populated areas, and where parking infringements are relatively rare, the cost of introducing and maintaining a scheme may take many years of parking charges to recover. Largely for this reason, the Department for Transport suggested that while Decriminalised Parking Enforcement was right for all urban areas "There may be some smaller authorities in rural areas where it may not necessarily be the right thing for them and it is for them to choose to do it."
17. In some more rural areas it might indeed be appropriate for schemes to be shared across a larger area. The Technical Advisers Group recommended such an approach "It is much harder in smaller authorities and I think small authorities have got to get together in some way, either under a county banner or get joint working arrangements." But this was not a unanimous view. Mr Mike Link of the Institution of Highways and Transport, told us:
18. The Department for Transport indicated that there was no Departmental objective to have civil parking enforcement across all local authorities and no expectations about the timetable for further roll-out of the powers. Karen Buck MP, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, told us that "We have never set out an objective for all authorities having decriminalised parking enforcement, although it makes sense for more to do so."
Two systems of parking enforcement
19. The lack of Government policy in favour of decriminalised parking enforcement leaves the UK with an inconsistent framework for dealing with parking contraventions and with two distinct regimes existing side by side. This is not simply a theoretical issue but has severely practical effects on those who are caught up in the two systems.
20. In one area, for example, non-compliance with the parking regulations brands the driver a criminal and a £30 Fixed Penalty may be issued by the police. In another area, the same act might be dealt with through a civil process administered by the local council. This would lead to the issue of a Penalty Charge of between £40 and £100 depending on location.
21. The detailed processes of the two regimes are also quite different. Under the criminal enforcement regime, traffic wardens, employed by the police, issue Fixed Penalty Notices to drivers alleged to have committed parking offences. The standard penalty charge is £30. No discount for early payment is allowed. Should the motorist wish to challenge the issuing of a Fixed Penalty Notice, informal representations may be made to the police ticket processing office.
22. Where the Fixed Penalty Notice is neither paid nor cancelled, a ’Notice to Owner’ is sent to the driver, with options to pay the charge, or nominate an alternative driver name, or request a hearing at the Magistrates’ Court. In arriving at a judgement the Court is able to consider issues of mitigation and proportionality, and can give an absolute or conditional discharge. If convicted at the Magistrates’ Court, an appeal to the High Court (as ’Case Stated’) on a point of law remains possible. If the charge is still not paid, the penalty charge is increased by 50 per cent and can be pursued by the bailiffs, or a sentence of imprisonment may be required as a last resort.
23. Under decriminalised parking enforcement the local authority employs parking attendants to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) to vehicle owners who have allegedly contravened the parking regulations and these are enforced through the civil justice system. The Secretary of State for Transport sets the charge levels outside London, while the Mayor determines them within London. Charges are currently set at £40, £50, and £60 outside London, and the higher level of £60, £80 or £100 within London boroughs. The local authority retains the revenue from the penalty charge.
24. Should the motorist wish to challenge a Notice, this is done first through making representations to the local authority, and following that, by making an appeal to the independent parking adjudication service. The adjudication service cannot consider mitigation; although it can request a local authority to reconsider its judgement on the basis of new information. The recourse for the still aggrieved appellant is to apply to the High Court for Judicial Review.
25. The inconsistency and confusion created by having two separate regimes was criticised by witnesses, including powerful evidence from Ms Caroline Sheppard, the Chief Parking Adjudicator for England and Wales:
Advantages of a single decriminalised enforcement system
26. We consider that there are significant advantages in the decriminalised parking system. The intensity of enforcement is much greater than a police based system, and this has been proved since the commencement of decriminalisation. This benefits the management of traffic on our streets.
27. The police have not prioritised traffic offences and extending the criminalised systems would be a severely retrograde step because parking enforcement would not receive the priority it has from local authorities. We believe the decriminalisation of traffic offences is perfectly appropriate. There are procedures in place for appeals and flexibility in the payment regime.
28. We had virtually no evidence that anyone wishes to return to the criminal approach; but we had evidence that the decriminalised system was appropriate. While there are many serious flaws in the way decriminalised parking is applied currently (and these are dealt with in the following chapters), we have no doubt that it represents the only practical way forward to continue to improve UK street management.
29. The Department has no milestones or targets for applying a single parking regime throughout the country. Given that the then Minister told us that the move to decriminalised parking "makes sense", the absence of a structured policy is a serious shortcoming. The advantages of a single system were perfectly apparent to the Minister (and no doubt to Departmental officials) but vigorous policy action taken to create the optimum framework with the minimum of delay has been completely absent.
30. It is all the more strange that an unfocused approach should have been tolerated when the police and the local authorities appear strongly in favour of decriminalised parking enforcement. We believe that it is unacceptable that there are two parallel systems of parking enforcement: one criminal and one civil, with distinct legal and procedural requirements.
31. Local authority enforcement is the most effective way of encouraging compliance with measures which bring significant traffic flow and road safety benefits to local areas. It is not sensible that motorists should be subject to different processes for the same parking violations in different parts of the country. We recommend that civil parking enforcement should be extended to all local authorities without delay. The Department must take the lead with local authorities in establishing a detailed implementation timetable with a date by which civil parking enforcement should be applied throughout the country. In council areas that would not be able to make parking enforcement self-funding, the Department should encourage a partnership approach and promote shared schemes across larger areas.