£520k parking profit, so why hike charges?

West Street car park
West Street car park
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A half million pounds profit from running parking services during 2015-2016 is sure to spark questions on whether Central Beds Council needed to controversially hike charges for motorists.

In February, the council upped parking fees in Leighton Buzzard much to the dismay of local traders and shoppers.

The increases introduced across the district, saw the cost for 3o minutes rise to 50p (previously 20p), with up to one hour £1 (previously 50p), two hours £1 (£1 or 50p), three hours £2 (£1.50), 10 hours £6.50 (£6), one week £15 (£12.80) and a lost token £8 (£5.50). An all-day £2 charge was introduced for Sundays at the West Street multi-storey too.

Now, the council’s Annual Parking Report, which goes before its overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, reveals that CBC made a £522,048 profit from parking services. It had predicted in its budget that this figure would be £277,722.

The authority brought in income of £1,370,430, slightly above its budgeted £1,312,289. Car park charges brought in £1,049,174, penalty charge notices £250,749, permits £55,122, and on-street fees £15,384.

Their operating costs were £848,382 (although it had budgeted for £1,034,567).

Employee costs were £435,063, buildings costs £88,222, vehicle costs £11,522, contracts and repairs £304,793, refunds £3,206, with supplies and services (Other) £11,988.

CBC say the lower than expected costs were due to staff vacancies, superannuation and an in-year refund of car park site rates following rateable re-evaluations.

It says the additional income was down to the increase in car parking fees, increased car park usage and more Penalty Charge Notices being issued.

The Annual Parking Report however states there is strict guidance on what the council can spent the half million pound excess on. It reads: “Local authorities should never use parking charges just to raise revenue or as a local tax. However, where the demand for parking is high, the delivery of transport objectives with realistic demand management prices for parking may result in surplus income.

“In such cases local authorities must ensure that any on-street revenue not used for enforcement is usedfor legitimate purposes only and that its main use is to impove, by whatever means, transport provision in the area so that road users benefit.”

Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of traders’ group LB First, said at the time that increasing fees by up to 150% would be a “massive hike” and could hit Leighton town centre hard.

He said: “It’s a dangerous game to play. If shoppers go elsewhere it’s hard to win them back again.”

Central Beds Council told the LBO this week that the profit from providing parking services will be reinvested in the road network and equipment.

A spokesman said: “The report provides information about both the parking income and expenditure budgets and sets out a number of reasons for the surplus, some of which are in-year budget variances that would not be a regular occurrence.

“The surplus income is reinvested in highway safety to ensure that Central Bedfordshire Council offers a safe and well-maintained roads network, and it is also reinvested in equipment including replacing payment machines across our car parks.

“We have not increased parking charges for a number of years and the increases bring our charges in line with neighbouring areas, allowing us to make investments to improve the service.”

> The top three parking contraventions in 2015/16 in Central Bedfordshire were:

1. Parked in a restricted street during prescribed hours.

2. Parked in a car park without clearly displaying a valid pay and display ticket or

voucher or parking clock.

3. Parked for longer than permitted.

A total of 8,828 parking tickets were dished out throughout the year. Of these 1,473 were cancelled, with 80 of this figure as a result of parking warden error. Other reasons for cancellation of the remaining Penalty Charge Notices include council decision, vehicle breaking down, mitigating circumstances, provision of evidence to support cancellation, foreign vehicle driver, ticket machine fault, valid permits not displayed and evidence provided.

> 3,428 notices were issued for unpaid Penalty Charge Notices (28 days after issue of the Penalty Charge Notice).

> What do you think? Should the council have held off increasing parking fees, or were they right to bring them into line with neighbouring areas? Email news@lbobserver.co.uk.