Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:42 pm on 3rd February 2017.

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Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 12:42 pm, 3rd February 2017

I am pleased to speak in support of the Bill’s Third Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, David Tredinnick, who is introducing this Bill in his 30th year in the House. I wish him well in getting it through Third Reading unopposed and through the other place unamended. I understand that it is his first private Member’s Bill. As somebody who, not too long ago, was on the Back Benches, I was never fortunate during that time to secure a private Member’s Bill, generally because I never appeared far enough up the ballot. I never had the chance to bring forward such important legislation, so I do congratulate him.

As I indicated on Second Reading, parking remains a very familiar issue. My ministerial postbag remains very busy with the numerous missives that I receive on parking, and Royal Mail continues to enjoy the rewards. In the three months since we started this process in November, I have continued to receive a significant level of correspondence.

High streets and town centres are essential parts of the fabric of our lives, and they are the social core of our communities. Affordable parking that enables people to access town centres is critical to the continued growth of our high streets. The previous Government recognised that fact in a number of reforms of council-owned parking facilities. The previous Government made it mandatory for local authorities to give 10-minute grace periods in all on-street and off-street parking bays. That gives consumers in town centres greater flexibility and allows them to complete their business in the town without having to worry about feeding the meter.

The use of CCTV camera cars as revenue-generating devices by local authorities has been a cause for concern. That is why the Conservative-led coalition Government banned councils from sending car parking tickets through the post, to give individuals a degree of certainty that if they get a ticket, they will know about it on the day.

Alongside the Bill, we are looking to improve transparency. The Government believe in town hall transparency, and they believe that transparency is the foundation of local accountability. It is the key that allows people to access the tools they need to hold their local council to account. Since 2010, transparency at town halls has improved greatly. The Conservative-led coalition Government changed the rules on attending town hall meetings to enable the press and public to attend, report and film proceedings. We have also changed the rules on the information that local authorities must make public, because transparency is good for the health of democracy.

In 2011, the Government issued the code of recommended practice for local authorities on data transparency to place more power in citizens’ hands, to increase democratic accountability and to make it easier for people to contribute to local decision making and shape local public services. The scope and content of the 2011 code was reviewed in 2012, and my Department consulted on a proposed update. As a result of the consultation, the Government published a revised local government transparency code in October 2014 and further updated it in February 2015. Since October 2014, compliance with part 2 of the code has been mandatory. The code requires certain authorities to publish certain information, which includes information about parking.

We encourage local authorities to produce an annual report about their enforcement activities within six months of the end of each financial year. The report should cover financial, statistical and other data reflecting the revenues received from car parking operations. The Department for Transport requires those data to help it to develop parking policy. There is a concern that the data being supplied are not as comprehensive as they should be, and most local authorities do not feel obligated to provide them. Accordingly, when we consulted last year about updates to the transparency code, we proposed that the requirements to publish data relating to local authorities’ parking accounts be expanded to include greater detail about parking charges.

We also propose that local authorities publish statistics about their enforcement of parking restrictions. Specifically, we propose that local authorities be required to provide data on total income and expenditure on the parking account kept under section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and on off-street parking charges and penalty charges, which are not covered by section 55 of the 1984 Act; that point was raised by several hon. Members. We propose that local authorities be required to provide a breakdown of income from on-street parking charges, on-street penalty charges, off-street parking charges and off-street penalty charges.

The responses to the proposal were enlightening, but not altogether surprising. They confirmed that parking data are of great interest to the public, and why would they not be? After council tax, parking charges are arguably one of the most visible ways that local authorities take money from the public.

The Bill recognises not only that councils need flexibilities, but that councils need to involve local communities in their decision-making process. The Bill offers a real opportunity for a small but sensible reform to local authority car parks and will give the Government powers to scrap the bureaucratic requirements on local authorities if they wish to lower their parking charges. It also offers a real opportunity for councils to take a flexible approach to support their high streets—for example, by responding to the opportunity to have town centre festivals, which several hon. Members referred to.

From my involvement in the Great British High Street competition in 2015, I learnt about the real passion that still exists in this country for high streets and town centres. However, although it is necessary for councils to be flexible in respect of parking charges to support their town centres, it is important to recognise that charging levels are often a significant concern for town centre businesses. The Government therefore think that it is fit and proper that councils are responsive to local concern before seeking to increase charges. My hon. Friend’s Bill provides for a consultation requirement if councils want to raise charges on an existing traffic order. It is sensible that this reform balances the needs of the local authority to set a fair pricing policy that rightly takes into account local people’s views.

In conclusion, I appreciate the points that have been made today. I am grateful for the way in which the House has handled the Bill and I thank the many colleagues who have made significant contributions. As I said when we started to consider the Bill, it represents a small but needed reform to help to deliver a more effective parking model that supports our great British high streets and town centres. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill having made it this far, and I hope that it ultimately becomes an Act of Parliament.