3 STATUTORY GUIDANCE
32. The Department for Transport is due to revise its guidance to local authorities on parking policy and enforcement which, as allowed for in the Traffic Management Act 2004, will be statutory. The Department for Transport is relying on external organisations to issue codes of practice on specific issues, such as loading.
The advantages of specific guidance
33. The existing national guidance was published in 1995. It is widely held to be a useful and thorough document, well-used by local authorities and by the Adjudication Services. Concern was raised in our evidence sessions however that the forthcoming new guidance will not be as specific and as detailed as the 1995 version. Caroline Sheppard, the Chief Adjudicator for England and Wales had precise concerns:
34. We are concerned that the signal and proven advantages to local authorities and the parking adjudicators of having a detailed Departmental document to guide them in parking matters is at risk of being lost. This would be a great pity. So-called strategic documents are extremely vulnerable to exhortation. But exhortation and generality often produce confusion and obscurity where transparency and clarity are called for in this area. The Department has the opportunity to build on the excellence of the document issued in 1995 and it should do so.
35. The Department for Transport appears intent on replacing the detailed and well regarded 1995 document of guidance on decriminalised parking with a more general document pitched at a ’strategic’ level. The 1995 document does require to be replaced, and we support the Department’s desire to update it. But we consider the move to a more general approach to be a severely retrograde step. Our evidence was that much of the value of the 1995 guidance document lies in the level of detail it contains. The Department needs to reconsider its approach. In any case, it will be essential that the Department consults all relevant organisations, including local government, the parking industry, the Adjudication Services, and the business sector, over the form and content of the future guidelines to ensure they are fully and appropriately useful. We expect to see the Department taking pains over this exercise.
The need for revised guidance
36. Although the 1995 document was a useful guide, subsequent experience points to the need for revised guidance with a more powerful reach. It is widely acknowledged that the quality of civil parking enforcement operations is too variable across different local authority areas. For example, there are many anecdotes of Penalty Charge Notices being wrongly issued in apparently inappropriate and, sometimes in absurd, situations. There are also examples of the unwillingness of some councils to consider mitigation properly, to exercise their powers of discretion, and to deal with representations in a timely fashion. The experience for drivers is much too often frustrating, and this further undermines the reputation of the parking system. Whilst not in crisis, decriminalised parking enforcement is certainly in need of steps to raise performance to a consistently high standard throughout the country.
37. A major concern among road user groups was that civil parking enforcement would be rolled-out across the country containing what they consider to be the mistakes and poor performance contained in the present arrangements. The Freight Transport Association commented "London leads the way with decriminalisation and it has been a disaster for commercial vehicle operators - this must not be repeated in every town and city that decriminalises its parking enforcement."
38. The 1995 guidance was good but could be improved in the light of experience. There are many examples of poor application of the rules. New guidance is needed to raise the standards required of local authorities operating civil parking enforcement. Lessons that have been learned over the past decade in different parts of the country must be shared systematically with those embarking on schemes of decriminalised parking enforcement to avoid the same mistakes being made.
39. Since the introduction of civil parking enforcement powers in 1991, and their first implementation by London authorities in 1994, the Department for Transport has failed to lead a nation-wide evaluation of its implementation, although it has part-funded some of the recent research. This is a major disappointment. The result is that comprehensive data to indicate how local authorities have performed in their duties under civil parking enforcement is not available. A systematic survey by the Department would have provided an administratively sound and professional basis for updating the guidance. Indeed, such an exercise appears to us a prerequisite to new guidance being issued.
40. The failure to evaluate decriminalised parking enforcement on a nation-wide basis leaves the Department in a difficult position in developing revised statutory guidance on civil parking enforcement. The Department would have been much better placed to make the most of the opportunity to issue regulations and new guidance of real use had it undertaken this evaluation. The Department should have conducted such an evaluation of decriminalised parking enforcement, and it now needs to consider very carefully whether it has the basic data to move to issue guidance at this time, or whether more research is required first.
41. The usefulness and underlying legitimacy of civil parking enforcement rests in it being carried out to the highest standard by local authorities. At present our evidence is that this is not the case. The new statutory guidance and the regulations will have a central role to play in raising standards and spreading best practice between councils. Many of the current concerns about civil parking enforcement can, and should, be dealt with through the new regulations and better guidance.
42. The Guidance should set down detailed performance criteria in a number of areas, and these are discussed in the following Chapters. We hope that these are helpful to the Department.