Figures released this week showing a huge rise in revenue for councils in England through car parking fines and charges is proof that they are hammering motorists visiting town centres.
So says the Forum of Private Business, which last month called for local authorities to dump car parking charges for 2013 as part of a drive to help struggling high street traders.
The Forum argues that this would increase footfall in town centres and make them more attractive places for businesses, in turn reducing the number of vacant commercial premises.
But research released by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) this week shows how councils across England made record revenue in 2011/12 at the expense of motorists – up 14.9% to over £411m.
Westminster Council topped the national list, raking in £38m from car parking fines and charges – a rise of 8.7%. In the north, Newcastle motorists were worst hit, paying £6.2m – up a staggering 51%, while Birmingham City Council netted £3.8m and the wider West Midlands area near £20m. Manchester stood at £5.97m, and Liverpool £3.28m.
“With councils making this kind of profit at the expense of motorists it’s no wonder shoppers are thinking twice about visiting their local high street,” said Forum spokesman Robert Downes.
“The evidence is now there for all to see that many councils are using motorists as cash cows without a thought for the consequences their actions have on the wider business communities.”
He said it was plain that councils were ramping up efforts and prices to raise revenue.
“Crude and short-sighted money spinners like this just means more and more shoppers abandoning their local high street and looking elsewhere for their shopping needs. The end result will be ghost high streets with boarded-up shops.”
The Forum believes councils should be looking at new options, such as lower car parking charges or providing entire days or afternoons where it is free. Schemes such as that run by Pendle Council in Lancashire, which gives motorists the first two and a half hours free, would help drive trade back from out-of-town shopping centres, while safeguarding against all-day parking abuse, it says.
“Times are changing, and town centres have to be managed better by local authorities if they’re to survive and compete with the likes of internet etailers and out-of-town shopping centres where parking is often free,” continued Downes, describing the current parking culture as “utter madness”.
“These latest figures show just how ignorant many councils are to the needs of their local high street businesses.”
The IAM said that while councils were “making record-breaking profits from parking”, they were cutting spending on road safety schemes and services and on road maintenance.