UK Politics

Ban on car parking cameras and 'spy cars' considered in England

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Media captionRoy Tunstall, from Liverpool City Council, says CCTV vans act as a "high-visibility deterrent"

Fixed cameras and what critics call spy cars used to catch people parking illegally could be banned in England.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he wanted to "rein in over-zealous and unfair rules", and that traffic wardens with cameras could do the job instead.

Static and car mounted cameras have been used to issue more than 10 million fines, totalling £301m, in the past five years, the Conservatives say.

Councils say the cameras help to keep roads safe, especially near schools.

The law could be changed "well before Easter", Mr Pickles told the BBC.

Some 75 councils currently have permission to use CCTV cameras or "approved devices" to enforce parking restrictions, under Labour's 2004 Traffic Management Act.

In these areas, a third of all parking fines are now issued via CCTV rather than by parking wardens, case studies suggest.

Meanwhile, a study by the Audit Commission found one in three councils was earning more money through parking charges and school meals than council tax.

Ahead of the Tories' annual conference, which starts on Sunday, Mr Pickles said restrictions were damaging town centres and being enforced unfairly.

The party has announced a series of proposals including:

  • Banning static CCTV parking cameras and car mounted cameras, instead allowing only visible traffic wardens to film vehicles
  • Publishing "open data" on parking
  • Updating guidelines to help people use local shops more easily
  • Improving people's "rights of redress" when fined inappropriately
  • Stopping "unacceptable and aggressive parking fine collection practices"
  • Reviewing "unnecessary" yellow lines

A Conservative Party briefing says using CCTV for parking enforcement "is detrimental to natural justice", as penalty notices are received in the post "with no opportunity for the driver to examine the parking location as it was at the time of the alleged contravention".

Mr Pickles added: "We want to rein in these over-zealous and unfair rules on parking enforcement, so it focuses on supporting high streets and motorists, not raising money.

"Parking spy cars are just one example of this and a step too far. Public confidence is strengthened in CCTV if it is used to tackle crime, not to raise money for council coffers."

Civil liberties campaigners called for a "serious debate" about what they said was the UK's "uniquely high level of CCTV surveillance".

"Councils should be transparent with residents about how many tickets are being issued with CCTV and how many criminals are being convicted," said Nick Pickles from the Big Brother Watch group.

"That way residents can decide for themselves if they really are better off with the cameras watching them."

'Law is clear'

But Tony Ball, of the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said parking controls were "not about revenue raising" but were "absolutely essential" for allowing people to leave their cars near shops or their homes.

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Media captionEric Pickles: You can't use parking fines as a way of raising money

He added: "Camera cars have been instrumental in keeping children from being hurt or killed on the way to school, and CCTV plays an important role elsewhere in monitoring traffic flow and keeping cars moving.

"Nobody likes getting a parking fine but the fact that less than 1% go to adjudication shows that in the vast majority of cases councils get it right.

"Income from on-street parking fines and charges is spent on parking services with any money left over spent on services like fixing potholes and providing subsidised bus travel to children and the elderly."


In response, Mr Pickles told BBC Breakfast: "It's okay for local authorities to say 'oh, it's all to save the children'. No it isn't. What this is about is raking in pretty large sums of money to fill the councils' coffers.

"The law's pretty clear. It says you're not allowed to do that. What we're going to do is enforce the law."

But road safety charity Brake said it made "very little financial or common sense" to remove cameras "which make our roads safer".

"We know that cameras are a very cost-effective way of enforcing traffic laws, while having individual officers trying to cover the same amount of work would cost a bomb," said senior campaigns officer Ellen Booth.

Meanwhile, motoring groups suggested parking policies were designed to make profit rather than improve roads.

"What really irritates drivers is the street-level hostility they feel is being waged against them," said AA president Edmund King.

"Drivers feel that civil enforcement officers are lurking in every street and are not there to deter them but to issue a ticket as soon as the driver's back is turned."

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation added: "Nobody wants a parking free for all, but they do want reasonable charges and fairness, whatever method is used to achieve it."

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