Weather puts paid to cameras for Leighton Buzzard car park

Hockliffe Street car park. Photo:Google
Hockliffe Street car park. Photo:Google

Plans to upgrade Leighton Buzzard’s Hockliffe Street/Library car park to use automatic numberplate recognition technology have been shelved because of problems with the system in Dunstable due to the weather.

Central Beds Council says the car park’s conversion has been aborted and the new machines put in place in readiness for the move to the pay-on-foot ANPR system will be adapted so it can stay as a pay and display facility.

Following public feedback, Dunstable’s Ashton Square car park is being converted back to pay and display, with the barriers and number plate cameras removed. The council says adverse weather had been affecting the camera’s ability to read number plates, and the barrier was being vandalised too and it doesn’t want the same issues to befall Hockliffe Street.

But ANPR technology will remain in place at the town’s West Street pay-on-exit multi-storey despite teething problems which have seen motorists stuck in the car park because their car registration numbers weren’t being recognised.

That’s because as an indoor site, the ANPR cameras are not exposed to the elements.

A CBC spokesman said: “The multi-storey in Leighton Buzzard is fully functional but we have had some intensive support and monitoring from the contractors that installed the system, this was to ensure that it was working as effectively as possible.

“Cameras have been repositioned and receive software updates to improve the Vehicle Registration Mark (VRM) capture rates.

“It is an indoor site and has not been as affected by some of the issues we have experienced at Ashton Square. These include adverse weather effecting VRM capture rates and the constant vandalism that the barriers at Ashton have been receiving. The multi-storey was already set up as a pay on exit system using tokens, which was then updated to an ANPR system.”

Regarding Hockliffe Street, the spokesman said: “The works to convert this car park had started which included the installation of new payment machines to set up ready for a pay on foot service. This project was halted due to the ongoing issues at Ashton Square Car Park and when the decision was made to leave this car park as a pay and display it was proposed that the new machines were converted to Pay and Display rather than replace the old existing payment machines. This conversion will be completed by March 6, at no cost to the council.

“The payment machines in Hockliffe Street will accept credit, debit and contactless payment cards, as well as cash. Customers will also be able to use the new JustPark mobile phone payment options.”

There have also been grumbles that CBC has been raking in money by not giving change in its car parks. A minimum £3.50 car payment has also been a bone of contention.

The CBC spokesman said: “At all of our car parks where cards are used at the machine for payment, a minimum of £3.50 is used. This was set in affect due to merchant fees being added to card payments and rather than that be passed on via tariff increases it was decided to set the minimum payment at £3.50. All of our Pay and Display car parks users can also use our parking App (JustPark) which provides cashless payments and has no minimum card payment when using this service. This will be available at Ashton Square car park once it has been reverted to Pay and Display but is not compatible with a Pay on Exit system.”

Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services, added: “The feedback from customers using the car parks has been really valuable to us since we installed the new equipment last year. It became clear that we needed to make alterations to ensure that we get the service right for our customers. We’ve listened, and we are quickly moving ahead with these changes to benefit the public who use our car parks.”

Gennaro Borelli, chairman of independent traders’ group LB First, said he wasn’t impressed by the car parking situation.

Referring to the lack of change given, ANPR failures in the multi-storey, and minimum card charges, he said: “It’s supposed to be an upgrade but it’s ended up with a worse situation than previously. It has to be asked if we’ve got value for money? The whole point was to get pay-on-exit at the library car park and we’re not going to get it now. This company has installed the ANPR system all over the place so why are there problems here?

“At West Street the system was working with the chip coin, and these problems are the sort of things that put people off coming into town. They just want plenty of parking and a system that works.”

And resident Andrea Hawkes contacted the LBO over the weekend claiming the car park pay machines simply weren’t up to scratch.

She said: “The machines do not take notes, do not give change, and do not take cards for less than £3.50 which is over 5 hours parking.

“I think this is utterly disgraceful in this day and age. I have ended up having to pay above the price of my parking due to not having the exact change when in the past I could just use my debit card.

“Debit cards should be able to be used instead of cash. I’ve asked plenty of people and no-one I have spoken to has needed to park in the town centre multi-storey for over five hours. That’s the only time you can use your card. I had to contact you as I think that it’s a joke and that the council are cheating people out of money.”