Parking for 15 minutes on double yellow lines may be allowed
Motorists could be allowed to park free of charge on double yellow lines for up to fifteen minutes under plans being considered to help boost High Streets.
Drivers in England could be given a "grace period" to pick up goods from shops or leave their cars in bays for longer without being fined.
While the Conservatives are keen on the idea, their Lib Dem coalition partners are understood to have reservations.
Councils have rejected suggestions they are using parking fines as "cash cows".'Fortune in fines'
Parking and waiting on double yellow lines is prohibited - unless stated - for all vehicles except for those making commercial deliveries and pick-ups, blue badge holders and the emergency services.
Both sides of the coalition say they want to help boost town centre trade, but disagree on how to do it.
Eric Pickles agrees with the High Street guru Mary Portas that fear of hefty parking fines is "killing High Streets" and encouraging people to go online or shop at out of town centres.
But his double yellow lines proposals have been dismissed by Lib Dem transport minister Norman Baker as "unworkable". He warned it could cause congestion and be dangerous.
The president of the motoring organisation AA also described the idea as "confused thinking".
It might be an idea likely to be popular with motorists and traders, but with no agreement on the plans, double yellow lines look set to remain barred for cars for a while yet.
Some councils already allow motorists to park free of charge for up to 30 minutes close to shops and Conservative ministers in the coalition government are to keen to extend that to give a shot in the arm to small shops.
Making town centre parking more affordable was one of the main recommendations of a 2011 review into the future of the High Street led by TV retail expert Mary Portas.
Sources close to the communities secretary Eric Pickles told the Daily Telegraph that "over-aggressive" parking enforcement was one of the reasons why many High Streets were struggling.
"If people are worried about paying a fortune in fines, it will make them more likely to shop online or go to out-of-town shopping centres," he said. "For too long, parking has been a revenue raiser. It is time to end that."
Conservative ministers want to issue new guidelines before the general election to encourage councils to consider a grace period of between five and fifteen minutes on double yellow lines.
But the BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said their Lib Dem coalition partners believed it was "unworkable" and that no agreement had been reached.
"Councils need to play their part in reining back in the over-zealous culture of municipal parking enforcement," a spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said.
"They should adopt a common sense approach. Ministers are considering what further steps can be taken to ensure that town hall parking policies and practices support local high streets."'Impractical'
Speaking last month, Lib Dem transport minister Norman Baker said it would be wrong for ministers to interfere with councils' parking policies. However, he confirmed the maximum and minimum fine levels that are set by the government are to be reviewed.
End Quote Edmund King AA president
Many double lines are there for historical reasons and could be lifted”
The Lib Dems are reported to be keen on raising the cap for parking fines but motoring groups have raised concerns that, if this was to happen, local authorities could become increasingly "reliant" on such income.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 300 councils in England and Wales, said double yellow lines "kept people safe and traffic moving" and there were "better ways" to attract people to High Streets.
"Removing parking restrictions on these parts of the road could jeopardise the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists and create further traffic jams," said Councillor Peter Box, chairman of its economy and transport board.
"A 15-minute window for parking would also be costly and impractical to monitor."'Historical reasons'
The AA said a thorough review of yellow line restrictions was needed to ensure they do not "run out of control".
"Many double lines are there for historical reasons and could be lifted," its president Edmund King said.
"There is plenty of opportunity to ease back on the signs and lines in many places, giving drivers short-term waiting bays instead so they can stop briefly to buy a paper or loaf of bread."
Business Secretary Vince Cable told Channel 5 News he had "a lot of sympathy with what Eric Pickles is trying to do.
"I think a lot of small businesses are driven to distraction by over-zealous enforcement of parking rules, so I think a little bit of common sense and flexibility is very much to be welcomed."
At the moment, the largest fine for illegal parking outside London is £70, while it is £130 in the capital.
Differential rates apply for different offences in most areas, with parking on double yellow lines generally incurring a larger penalty.
Appearing before MPs last month, council executives denied that parking officials had been set targets for the amount of tickets issued and that revenue from parking infringements was being used to compensate for cuts in funding from Whitehall.