Address to the British Parking Association mentioning the local authorities parking consultation, high streets and new technology.
Good morning, I am grateful to Helen for her thoughtful introduction to today’s (27 February 2014) discussion.
As any learner driver will tell you - parking is complex.
We ask parking and traffic management to deliver a number of objectives in parallel and managing those competing demands on our roads will never be simple.
Recognition for the sector
The UK has more motor vehicles per mile than France, Germany or even the densely populated Netherlands.
And traffic on our roads is forecast to increase.
That’s why we are investing £24 billion in the strategic road network in this Parliament and the next.
And by 2021 we will be spending £3 billion each year on improvements and maintenance.
This is the most significant upgrade of our roads ever.
And it is also why parking and traffic management has an absolutely vital role to play.
Effective management enables people, goods and services to get to where they are needed.
And it is essential for a growing economy.
Over the past few years we have seen great strides taken by the parking industry.
Innovations like the John Heasman Bursary have helped increase the evidence available to inform improved traffic management.
And at the same time the industry has become increasingly skilled and more professional.
Now more than 90% of local authorities have taken over the civil enforcement of their parking services.
This has improved compliance, reduced congestion, freed up the police and – most importantly – made our roads safer.
But where effective parking management breaks down – like in Aberystwyth as well as in my own constituency in Scarborough – it causes real problems.
So we can all learn and improve on what we do – including the government.
Sharing experiences, information and knowledge is essential.
That’s why I was very grateful the British Parking Association have organised today’s (27 February 2014) summit.
The reason why we are all here today (27 February 2014) is the Transport Select Committee’s recent inquiry into local parking enforcement and the government’s recent wide-ranging parking consultation.
As you will expect, we have received a very large number of responses to the consultation.
Let me reassure you that, despite what some press reports claim, we have not already reached a decision.
I will be looking at all the responses to the consultation carefully.
We will not be taking any hasty decisions.
Because, what is very clear, is that parking matters to us all.
So – together - we need to get it right.
The Select Committee inquiry and our consultation have been prompted by three big issues for parking and traffic management.
The first, is the challenges facing our high streets.
The second, is the potential for the deployment and use of new technologies that can improve the use of our roads.
But recognition that, in some cases, these cause the public concern.
Finally, the third is the widespread belief among motorists that councils view parking enforcement primarily as an opportunity to raise revenue.
I’d like briefly to discuss each of these this morning to set out why they are important and I would like to hear all your thoughts on the possible next steps.
Our high streets are essential to our national life.
High streets bring people together and they’re at the heart of our daily life and economy.
For example, in London over half of the jobs in the capital are spread across just 600 high streets.
And two-thirds of Londoners live within a 5 minute walk of their local high street.
But our high streets have been in long-term decline.
Despite recent encouraging economic news, vacancy rates remain stubbornly high.
Almost 14% of shops were empty in December – that’s more than 50,000 stores.
And that’s prompted debate about what can be done to help high streets compete with out of town and online retail.
Ensuring convenient and safe parking is available at a reasonable cost is part of the answer.
And I would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Parking Association for the advice you have been providing to the Portas review pilot towns.
And, many areas, do need to improve.
During her review Mary Portas found that in many areas – to use her words - “parking has been run-down, in an inconvenient place, and most significantly really expensive.”
And the recent Association of Town and City Management and BPA survey found that some mid-range areas were charging 18% more for parking than larger and more popular retail locations.
So the question is, if you are a local business or resident, what more is needed to get your local council to improve parking provision in your local area?
In the consultation we suggested one way this could be achieved could be by allowing local residents and firms to be able to petition the council to initiate a review of parking policy in their area.
This might be a request to lower charges.
But it equally might be a review to see if additional spaces could be provided or for better street lighting to improve safety.
The second issue is the potential for new technologies to help manage our roads far more effectively.
The introduction of GPS-based systems, new sensor technologies and the increasing integration with smart-phones can revolutionise parking.
Better and more efficient parking services can be delivered in real-time, bringing benefits to high streets and road users throughout the UK.
However the capabilities of these new technologies also bring with them an increased responsibility to ensure that parking is enforced fairly and proportionately.
I firmly believe that most involved in the parking industry, from local authorities to private-sector service providers aim to do just that.
However, the use of CCTV, in particular, causes public concern.
The department’s guidance already states that CCTV cameras should only be used where parking enforcement is difficult or sensitive and enforcement by a civil enforcement officer is not practical.
Because cameras can be more contentious than boots on the ground.
The Select Committee found that residents’ permits and blue badges may not always be visible.
And the Select Committee also found that in some areas cameras are being used ‘as a matter of routine’ for on-street parking violations.
So our consultation asked what options there are to address these concerns and I’d like to hear your thoughts this morning.
Finally, there is a real problem with the public’s view of local authorities’ approach to parking and traffic enforcement.
In the words of the Transport Select Committee, there is a “deeply rooted public perception that local authorities view parking enforcement as a cash cow”.
From 1997/98 to 2010/11, net surpluses from parking rose from £223 million to £512 million.
Net income from local authority parking services is expected to rise from £601 million in 2012/13 to £635 million in 2013/14 - an increase of 5.6%.
I know that headline figure reflects parking charges as well as penalties, but I am determined that public confidence in enforcement should not be undermined.
We have been very clear that the ring fence on surpluses will remain.
Fines for those who break the rules will only be used to improve the roads or environment for those that play by the rules.
But the Transport Select Committee also asked whether the current system is as fair as it could be for those who inadvertently make a mistake.
First, they asked whether the independent traffic adjudicators should be able to allow an appeal where they determine a Council has ignored statutory guidance.
Second, does the current system act as a disincentive for someone to appeal?
There is a legititmate concern that discounts on prompt payments following appeal would result in every charge being appealed.
So, following the Committee’s recommendation, we have asked whether the introduction of a 25% discount for motorists who pay within 7 days of losing an appeal would be worthwhile.
Third, the committee recommended that the statutory guidance should stipulate a grace period after the expiry of paid for time.
As the BPA’s response to the consultation states, in practice, most local authorities do this already.
So I would like your views as to whether mandating a grace period might reassure the public that they can expect a consistent approach no matter where they park?
In conclusion, I believe that the majority of local authorities and parking providers are doing excellent work.
You are providing well designed, fair and proportionate parking services.
The challenge now is to deliver equally high standards across the parking sector as a whole.
That means preventing examples of poor management or bad practice that are so prominent in the media.
I know many of you will have responded to the recent consultation.
I understand just how important these issues are.
So I will be listening carefully to the views generated by the consultation, as well as the outcome of today’s summit.
Because parking and traffic management is important.
It’s important to the public.
It’s important for our communities.
And it’s vital for the health of our economy.
Thank you for listening.
I look forward to our discussion.