Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parking: How Town Hall ‘steals’ motorists’ money

Respect goes to Councillor Knight for being the only elected member of any London Council to turn up to the launch of the Manifesto in the House of Lords. Would have been nice to have seen Councillor Chalkley there to speak on Westminster's behalf.

Camden New Journal
25 February 2010

CAMDEN has been named and shamed as one of the worst areas in the country for unfair parking by campaigners who launched a weighty new manifesto at the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Examples from the borough’s kerbsides litter a thick investigative report which concludes that there needs to be a “root and branch” change to the way parking penalties are dealt with.
The Motorists Legal Challenge Fund group, authors of the report, are asking MPs to consider the issue in the run-up to the general election and have recommended a new independent adjudicator to deal with grievances about tickets and wardens is set up.

None of its members are standing for election but the new group brings together the London Motorists Action Group – of which Hampstead actor Tom Conti is a trustee – and The ­Drivers’ Alliance as a unified pressure group.

Group secretary Alex Henney said in his experience parking enforcement in Camden in the past had amounted to “stealing” money through fines. One of the main claims of the group is that when local authorities realise they have made an error, they still often quibble over repaying fees.

Mr Henney said the idea of a new adjudicator came about because “there was nowhere else for people to go”.“What are you supposed to do?” said Mr Henney, who lives in Highgate. “We’ve been to appeals. We’ve been to the councillors. We’ve been to court. We’ve been to the police in some cases. We’ve been told we can’t go to a local ombudsmen anymore with our complaints – so the fact is there is nowhere else for us to go apart from expensive judicial reviews – over an £80 parking ticket.”

Other members of the group include Lord Ralph Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall, who chaired the meeting, and long-term campaigner Neil Herron.

“If local authorities want to make a success of the law enforcement powers they have been granted then they need to earn the respect of the general public very quickly” said Lord Lucas.

The group want more “common sense” on the street, including more discretion for drivers who are just a couple of minutes late back to a meter. Another thrust of the manifesto is the familiar claim that local authorities see penalising “trivial” errors through fines as a way to raise money.

Camden’s unwanted namechecks in the full report include the sudden jump in the cost of builders’ permits from £5 per day to £33 last year and the introduction of a credit card surcharge for payments which is currently being challenged in the courts and could lead to large amounts of refunds.

Driving lessons – ‘We’re getting better’

ENVIRONMENT chief Councillor Chris Knight revealed his own car has been towed away in the past two weeks, costing him more than £250 in penalty fine cash.
But, as he admitted to having clocked up his fair share of parking tickets in the past, Cllr Knight said: “I deserved it. If you are parked in a silly place, wrongly, then you will get a fine.”
Cllr Knight, a Tory, was the only executive member from a local authority to attend Tuesday’s press briefing and to digest the Motorists Challenge Fund report in full.

He said: “I always say that learning is 95 per cent listening and 5 per cent making mistakes. I am prepared to listen to what these guys have to say and try to take onboard any points they have.

If you want to use the analogy: Tony Blair went to talk to the IRA.

It’s been ­hostile in the past over parking but I have actually listened to what’s been said, some of the things that maybe haven’t worked so well, and we are changing. I think ­people are seeing that.

“I think people can see it has got fairer and with the new contracts and new training that is coming in, I think there will be even better results in the next year or so.”

In the 2006 local elections, the man then sitting in Cllr Knight’s position was Labour councillor John Thane. In a protest at parking policies, he was singled out in the campaign with leaflets distributed in his Highgate ward urging voters to drive him out of the Town Hall.

Motorists posed in John Thane pirate masks in the months before his eventual defeat. Cllr Knight has yet to face the same venom as parking supremo.
“If you look at what these guys are saying today, they are saying Camden has got better and that I have been more gracious,” he said.

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