Thursday, November 25, 2010

Westminster Council in the spotlight

'No wrong-doing' council broke EU law
By Ed Davey 25 November 2010
BBC News, London

Council faces EU parking inquiry
A council has been censured by the European Commission for infringing contract laws - and criticised for earlier claiming in a press release it had been "cleared of any wrong-doing".

Westminster Council was the subject of an EU investigation after setting up Partners in Parking (PiP), which allowed local authorities to join forces to purchase cheap parking services.

Westminster was found to have infringed EU law

Transport for London and six local authorities in the city joined when it first started, hoping for a better deal from private parking enforcement firms.

Canadian company Verrus was awarded the contract to provide pay-and-display services, pay-by-phone, parking tickets and debt collection to the members.

Additional local authorities were then persuaded by Westminster City Council to join PiP but these contracts under European Union rules should have gone back out to tender rather than being passed automatically to Verrus.

This move prompted an investigation by the European Union after an un-named parking company complained about the process and the failure to put subsequent contracts out to tender.

But on 8 November Westminster Council released a statement saying an investigation by the European Commission into its parking contract "has cleared the authority of any wrongdoing".

Councillor Lee Rowley, Westminster's parking boss, said at the time: "We always maintained this contract was properly awarded following a tender process carried out in accordance with the law and we are obviously pleased that the EU has decided to close this case."

But BBC London has obtained documents showing the Commission found against Westminster Council and that it was ordered to make changes.

'Infringed EU law'

In an written statement it said: "The Commission considered that Westminster City Council has infringed EU law.
"The United Kingdom authorities recognised the Commission's allegations and committed to take appropriate and adequate measures for the purpose of terminating the infringement."

This statement was obtained by Gerard Batten, a Member of the European Parliament and also of UKIP.

Gerard Batten MEP said Westminster's press release was 'simply not true' He said: "The press release Westminster sent out is simply not true.
"They have not been cleared of any wrong-doing.
"They certainly were not let off scot-free."

He said he was not surprised the authority had put out "such a silly statement".

In light of the revelations, the BBC has learned some councils are considering withdrawing from PiP.

A head of parking at one of the PiP councils, speaking to the BBC on condition of anonymity, said: "The whole issue of legal capability has to be explained.
"I had the press release saying everything was in the clear.
"Then I received other information - now I am trying to ask how these things relate."

Asked if the council would now withdraw from PiP, the officer said: "Whether it is a deal-breaker I don't think we can say until they respond."

Westminster Council's initial claims followed an exchange of emails with the Office for Governmental Commerce (OGC), which dealt with the EU over the issue.

"Our earlier statement did not intend to mislead anyone”
Cllr Lee Rowley
Westminster Council

The OGC says it does not comment on individual cases but the BBC understands the OGC is privately adamant that Westminster's press release was inaccurate and the council should not have based its claims on their emails.

On Wednesday Cllr Rowley said: "Our assertion that we had been cleared of any wrong-doing was based on the fact the OGC had said that the Commission had closed the case.
"It was also based on the EU saying there had been a satisfactory outcome to its investigation.
"Our earlier statement did not intend to mislead anyone and it's important to note that there was no punitive action taken against the council."

PiP once had ambitions to go nationwide.

The minutes of its December 2009 board meeting read: "The board received a report to consider the recommendation enable non-London authorities to join PiP.

Expansion plans dropped

"An Associate Membership would be created in order to enable UK authorities outside London to take advantage of PiP procurements."

A PiP report from 2009 described Bristol, Maidstone, Swindon, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Chiltern and Oxford as having a "potential interest" in joining.

One PiP report referred to the "harmonisation" of a Westminster policy to charge motorcyclists for parking, promising to "review national policy context".

Bristol City Council was one of several authorities nationwide interested in PiP But Bristol Council raised concerns about PiP with regard to the legality of authorities outside London joining the organisation.

After the EU investigation began, expansion beyond London was shelved.

Westminster Council, which insists the EU probe did not affect the plans' termination, has since dismissed claims of national ambitions.

In July 2010 the then PiP chairman, Alastair Gilchrist, who is now strategic director of resources at Westminster Council, told other members: "Concerns about PiP's nationwide expansion are ill-conceived and regional savings are still at the heart of PiP's focus."

The EU's ruling means that only the seven authorities which first joined PiP - Westminster, the City of London, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Islington, Camden and Transport for London - may continue to use the Verrus contract.

An OGC advisory in light of the ruling suggests councils who subsequently joined PiP may be said to have made an "illegal award" of the contract to Verrus, if they used the company.

There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing by Verrus.

Enfield, Richmond, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Havering and Croydon joined PiP after its start date.

The BBC understands at least one of those authorities, Tower Hamlets, is now actively seeking to award a new contract.

Clamper convicted ...

Clamper sentenced for ‘bullying’ tactics
Get Reading
By Laura Herbert
November 25, 2010

A clamper who demanded hundreds of pounds from a Caversham motorist he claimed was illegally parked has become one of the first clampers prosecuted under new aggressive trading laws.

Regional Clamping Services (UK) Ltd boss Lee Peacock immobilised motoring journalist James Day’s Alfa Romeo in Mill Green, Caversham, on February 11.

The parking ticket was issued by the wheel-clamping company because, it said, Mr Day’s car was causing an obstruction, had no parking permit and because signs stated ‘strictly no parking’.

He was charged £170 for the vehicle to be towed, £150 for it to be clamped and £105 (£35 per day) for it to be kept in a compound in Iver, Buckinghamshire – a total of £425.

Mr Day, of nearby Queens Road, made the 30-mile trip to the compound two days later to have his car released.

Peacock, from Uxbridge, appeared at Brent Magistrates’ Court in London on November 2 where he admitted two bankruptcy offences, two counts of fraud and one of aggressive trading. The charges do not relate to Mr Day.

He is also accused of breaking the law by running Regional Clamping Services (UK) Ltd as he was disqualified as a director and from using the company name after his original business Regional Clamping Services Ltd went into liquidation in February 2009.

Peacock was sentenced to 16 weeks suspended for 18 months for both fraud counts to run concurrently, and 10 weeks suspended for 18 months for bankruptcy offences. Both sentences are to run consecutively.

He must also carry out 120 hours’ unpaid work, fined £500 and ordered to pay £3,433 in costs.

Mr Day, 27, said: “I’m pleased the law has finally caught up with him and I know Brent Trading Standards played a big part in bringing this crook to book.

“It’s just a shame it took a kind of loophole law to prosecute him rather than clamping being illegal in the first place, like in other parts of the UK.

“The sentence itself is too lenient for someone who has clearly profited huge amounts of money from his aggressive practices. Money that in most cases won’t find its way back to victims and in some cases caused distress as a result of intimidation.”

He added: “I hope residents who feel the need to have parking restrictions placed in their neighbourhoods think long and hard about who they employ to enforce them, especially as Mr Peacock already had an alleged history of malpractice before being prosecuted.”

Reading East MP Rob Wilson, who was contacted by Mr Day at the time, said of the sentencing: “I think this is a warning to all clamping companies that are sailing close to the wind that their behaviour is not going to be tolerated in the future.

“We came into Government with a clear mission to make sure companies that were being overly aggressive, bullying and working at the edges of the law are going to be dealt with.”

He added: “I am so pleased to see this case has gone to court and I hope other companies will learn from it.

“There are very reputable companies that do a reasonable job and work within the law. There’s no reason why all of these companies can’t do that.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Council runs for cover ...

Our press release went out yesterday from the Motorists Legal Challenge Fund offering to handle Irene's case and we are pleased to say that we will not be required. Our council insider reveals that the council read the blog here and thought better of it and cancelled the PCNs rather than getting into what would have been a very public spat.

Cowards’ back down over parking farce
Southend Echo
24th November 2010

A 90-YEAR-OLD woman has been spared from two parking tickets she received within the space of just 15 minutes, thanks to the Echo.

Yesterday, the Echo highlighted the plight of Irene Reynolds, who was given the fines after her disabled permit accidentally became partially obscured on two occasions.

Despite appealing against the tickets, Southend Council officials had refused to back down. However, after we intervened, officials looked again at the case and changed their minds.

Mrs Reynolds, who told the Echo she would rather serve time in jail than pay the fines, said: “I think they are cowards because I would have gone to prison.

“It is so pathetic.
“Too damn silly for words.”

Mrs Reynolds, of High Street, Old Leigh, who is recovering from a broken leg, got her first ticket when she inadvertently left a glove partially covering her permit.

She then dropped her friend in Leigh Broadway but, in gratitude for the lift, he left a Mars bar on her dashboard which, once again, partially obscured her permit.

She told how traffic wardens were thoroughly amused by the whole incident.

Mrs Reynolds, the former head of the old Westminster School in Westcliff, added: “They were laughing at me as they put the second ticket on the windscreen.

“They were awful.
“If I thought one of my former pupils had become a traffic warden like them I think I would feel I had done a poor job.
“I am 90 years old and in very poor health. I think they should have used their common sense in the first place.”

Derek Kenyon, the council’s parking manager, said: “We have considered this case very carefully, and on this occasion we will be cancelling these penalty charge notices.
“However, it is important to abide by the rules for the use of disabled parking badges, laid down by the Department for Transport.”

Ticketed motorist accuses council of unfair treatment

Very laudable by the council not to contest the decision due to the fact that they had not received the information from the DfT in time. They state:
"we decided not to contest the appeal while we fully confirmed that the signage is legitimate."

Such information, the use of non-prescribed signs, would require Special Authorisation from the Secretary of State for Transport. Let us hope that the council has now received this information to 'fully confirm' that their signage is legitimate.

This is Devon
By Emma Pearcy
23rd September 2010
A Teignmouth woman who successfully contested a parking ticket has accused highways and enforcment authorities of treating drivers unfairly.

Sheila Robinson claims a parking enforcment zone in the resort's Somerset Place is poorly signed.

But Teignbridge Council, which carries out enforcement action on behalf of Devon County Council, vociferously denied her claims saying it is signed properly and she 'got off' on a technicality.

The council says the area has always been correctly signed but confirmation from the Department of Transport did not arrive in time for Mrs Robinson's appeal.

Mrs Robinson successfully contested a ticket slapped on her car in Somerset Place in January.
She said: " A lot of people are not aware the area is part of the parking enforcement zone.
"I saw the signs warning motorists it's a parking enforcement zone are not in the right place.
"If you miss one there is nothing else to warn you that you are in a parking enforcement zone.
"I challenged the ticket because there was nothing to show me, as a law-abiding citizen, that it was an enforcement zone.
"Any logical thinking person would think they are not doing anything wrong."

Her appeal, against Teignbridge Council and Devon County Council as highways authority, was completed earlier this month after nine months and her ticket was cancelled.

She said: "There was no doubt in my mind I would succeed in my appeal."

A Teignbridge Council spokesman said: "This area is correctly signed, but an administrative issue meant we did not have the paperwork from the Department of Transport confirming its legitimacy to hand at the time of the appeal.

"Rather than spend taxpayers' money chasing this up within the short time frame allowed by an appeal, we decided not to contest the appeal while we fully confirmed that the signage is legitimate.
"On-street parking legislation is set by Devon County Council and enforced by Teignbridge Council on their behalf.
"The cost of the service, including dealing with challenges, is covered by the county council as part of a set service agreement, so appeals do not increase the cost of the service to the public. "While we appreciate a parking ticket is never welcome, the regulations are there for everyone's benefit. Any driver choosing to break the rules risks a ticket."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Show me the money!

Pressure on parking wardens will send their wages soaring
Felix Allen and Mark Blunden
London Evening Standard

Parking attendants will regularly double their wages as London's town halls urge them to issue more tickets to raise money to offset government cuts.

The warning follows revelations that a warden in one of the most deprived boroughs earned more than £50,000 last year.

Known as a Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officer, he earned £52,786 — more than some charity chief executives and four times a new nurse.

Another Tower Hamlets attendant was paid £44,319, despite a basic salary of £26,800.

Neil Herron, of the London Motorists' Action Group, said: “We hear that the guys who go out and ticket the best get the biggest bonuses, only they don't call it a bonus. We are repeatedly told there are no targets but how can anyone earn £53,000 if they're not being rewarded with some kind of bonus?”

Tower Hamlets said the “one-off” salaries consisted of overtime and pay reviews, with the average warden earning £26,800.

A council spokeswoman said: “Our civil enforcement officers do not receive any bonuses or payments related to the number of notices issued.”

Other boroughs paying high wages to parking attendants include Hounslow where one employee earned £42,524, and another, in Merton, £35,339.

A Mars a day keeps you fine(d)

Is this what parking enforcement is about?

90 year old Blue Badge Holder treated with contempt by laughing wardens... and then Southend Council refuses to cancel the PCNs. Shame on you all!

The Motorists Legal Challenge Fund has offered to take the case on and will guarantee that these PCNs will be cancelled otherwise they will pay the costs.

Irene, 90: I’ll go to jail rather than pay fines
22nd November 2010

A 90-YEAR-OLD woman says she’ll go to prison rather than pay two parking tickets she was given in the space of just 15 minutes.

Irene Reynolds found her car, parked near her home in Old Leigh High Street, had been given a ticket because she had accidentally left a glove covering part of her disabled permit.

Still seething about parking wardens’ meanness, she drove off to take a friend to Leigh Broadway, where she parked on Leigh Hill, near St Clement’s Church.

Her friend left her a Mars bar on the dashboard as a thank you present for the lift – and it covered part of her parking permit. The result: Another ticket.

Retired headmistress Mrs Reynolds, who is recovering from a broken leg, said of the second incident: “I parked on double yellow lines, which I’m allowed do with my permit, but I saw two traffic wardens nearby and, not wanting to take any more chances, asked them if I was all right where I had parked. They said I was fine.

“I popped in to a nearby store and when I came back, I could see the wardens standing there laughing their heads off. I hobbled as fast as I could to the car, but was horrified to find another ticket.

“My friend had left a Mars bar on the dashboard for me, to say thanks for the lift, but he had accidentally put part of the chocolate over my permit.”

Mrs Reynolds pleaded with the wardens, but they refused to let her off. She later appealed to Southend Council, which refused to waive the tickets.

The former head of the old Westminster School, in Westcliff, added: “I couldn’t believe they could all be so heartless. I know you have to display the permit clearly, but it wasn’t completely covered. It was quite obvious I had a permit. I absolutely refuse to pay these fines.
“I will go to prison before I pay a penny. It’s too silly for words and just so unfair.”

The council has promised to look into the incidents after the Echo raised them with it.

Parking manager Derek Kenyon said: “A detailed investigation into these notices, is now under way. We hope to resolve this by next week.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Times Magazine ...first time for everything

Drove round Sunderland with Matt and detailed the many failings of a mismanaged system of enforcement, not just in Sunderland but across the country. As councils start their 'we need to raise PCN levels' kite flying exercise a very bright spotlight is about to be shone on an 'industry' that has failed to self-regulate and whose failings have been regularly ignored by all and sundry. When it has come under scrutiny and challenge by the public in Dave's Big Society those individuals have been treated with disproportionate costs. The truth will eventually out and there are some very worried council officers (serving and former) who may well suffer at the hands of their former colleagues.

I'll only be parking my car here for a couple of minutes
Matt Rudd
21 November 2010

The meter is ticking for traffic wardens, but don't rejoice yet. The smart computers that are replacing them can spot a transgression a mile away.

Tuesday. 1600 hours. A windowless control room somewhere deep in an anonymous Marylebone office block, central London, and it’s all very Spooks. I am sitting next to Donald, nickname: the Godfather.
From his bank of computer screens, he can control more than 100 cordless cameras across London, but right now we’re focused on just one.

With the help of joystick controls, we have our target locked: the man is sitting in his sleek black Mercedes on Harley Street. From his relaxed demeanour, it is clear he has no idea we’re watching him or that, in 13 seconds, he’s toast. Ten, nine, eight… it’s the point in the operation where all the training comes in…
Five, four, three… Come to papa. Two, one… boom! Target eliminated.

Well, okay, not eliminated. But that’s more than two minutes and one second parked on a single yellow line between the hours of 8.30am and 6.30pm, Mr Mercedes Driver. No explosion, no sniper’s bullet, but in about 10 days’ time, you will be receiving a £60 parking ticket. Kapow.
This is just the start: the traditional traffic warden is dead. The cyber-enforcement officer is taking over I am willing to accept that the parking-enforcement headquarters of Westminster council are not quite as glamorous as the MI6 headquarters across the river, but it is certainly futuristic. And while MI6 might be concerned with dirty bombs, terror cells and agents in holdalls, Donald and his colleagues are after you. Yes, you. The illegal parker. They are the traffic wardens of the future. They sit at their terminals — up to 10 of them at a time — prowling the streets virtually, via wi-fi CCTV.

This is the first time anywhere in the world that remote, wireless cameras have been used to enforce parking. They find an illegally parked car, they video it for that very precise, very legally binding two minutes and one second, and they issue the ticket.
Five or six an hour is a good rate of attack — and all from the comfort of a swivel chair. Donald prefers it to his days issuing tickets on the actual streets. You get less hassle, he says, but “not as much exercise”.

The £1.3m annual contract for the CCTV operation is outsourced to the private company NSL (“intelligent urban management solutions for the public and private sector”), which is the largest employer of enforcement officers in the country. They are very proud of Donald and his team. They’ve already shown him off to several British councils, the Icelanders and the Norwegians. Next week, a delegation from Stockholm will drop in. Everyone has been terribly enthusiastic. Everyone, I’m guessing, except the man in the black Mercedes when, in a few days, he opens that official-looking envelope from Westminster council (the printing of which, by the way, is outsourced to another joyless office in Scotland).

The purist would argue that Mercedes man deserves it. He shouldn’t have parked on the single yellow line in the first place. Donald points out that when they first put one of the cameras in Soho’s Old Compton Street, they were issuing 50 tickets a day. Now, this has reduced to a trickle — and the road is clear. To demonstrate, he flicks his screen to Old Compton Street and shows me how devoid of cars it is. “Everyone knows not to park illegally down there,” he says, proudly.
To the rest of us, getting ticketed by a man watching you from 1.8 miles across town with a two-minute stopwatch might seem a bit, well, unfair. Officious. An infringement of one’s God-given right to wi-fi-free fair play.

But this is just the start: the traditional traffic warden is dead. The cyber-enforcement officer is taking over. Westminster’s multi-million-pound black ops is at the forefront of a step-change in parking control. It’s getting smarter, it’s getting more technical and it’s getting harder to avoid.

Banksy’s fantasy of a steamrolled traffic warden in Lewisham

Six years ago, 6m parking tickets were issued in England alone. Last year, that figure reached 9m. That’s 9m £60 fines. Or 9m days ruined. Only 1% of offenders bother to appeal. The rest accept their fate and pay up. The threat of the fine doubling if it isn’t settled within 14 days — something oddly akin to the concept of pleading guilty to get a lighter sentence — might have something to do with it.

Across the country, video surveillance — both at fixed points and in cars — is becoming de rigueur for parking control. Thirty-four councils used it last year, generating £3m in fines. Many more local authorities have gone high-tech this year. In Cheshire, they’re now being used to clamp down on double-parking at the school gate. As of January, Bolton council will be armed with a Smart Car sporting a 3.6m-high CCTV mast. In Enfield, north London, 40% of parking tickets were issued via CCTV in the first 12 months of the programme. And in just one year, Camera No 225 on Grant Road, next to Clapham Junction railway station, issued more than 6,000 tickets, earning £300,000 for Wandsworth council. As of this month, Bromley council has even started strapping head-cams to its wardens. Awesome.

For those kids who didn’t make it through the X Factor auditions, might I recommend the all-new BTec in CCTV Traffic Enforcement? You’ll be taught “within the current legal framework and gain the confidence to handle breaches of regulations correctly and effectively”. Forget the three Rs. In these times of economic uncertainty, these are the future-proof skills you need. It wasn’t always like this. There used to be traffic wardens, the old sort, in black-and-yellow uniforms. The Yellow Peril. They started patrolling Britain’s streets in September 1960, not just to “issue tickets for parking offences” but also to “offer advice to motorists”. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? “I wouldn’t park there, sonny. I’d have to give you a ticket. Oh, and your left rear’s a bit flat.” That sort of thing.

It simply isn’t fair if you’re getting a ticket from a camera you may not have even noticed. Where’s the discretion? Of course they were unpopular. Nobody’s ever going to love a traffic warden. In fact it only took three years before the first motorist had rigged up a vehicle to an electric cattle prod with the sole intent to electrocute one. Peter Hicks, a powerboat-racing farmer who used to fly his produce from Sussex to the wholesale market in Covent Garden by ex-American army helicopter, was just the sort of eccentric to take on these newfangled parking enforcers. In 1963, he booby-trapped his Land Rover with a 2,000-volt charge and spent many a happy lunch in the pub with his mates watching traffic wardens try to ticket it. “The attempts frequently ended in a huge bang and much merriment for those watching in the pub,” recalls his son. Hicks was eventually arrested and charged with assault, but after nine months the police dropped all charges.

While this doesn’t mean that in the 1960s it was legal to electrocute traffic wardens, prosecutors decided they wouldn’t be able to make an assault charge stick.
Hicks got off with a warning, but he didn’t know how good he had it back then. Things are quite different today. If you want a piece of legislation to blame, try the 1991 Road Traffic Act. It allowed local authorities to apply for Decriminalised Parking Enforcement (DPE) powers. They could create controlled parking zones (CPZs) within which PCNs (penalty charge notices) could be issued without recourse to law. Parking was no longer a police matter.

Instead of traffic wardens, this heralded the rise of the civil enforcement officer, the employment of whom was increasingly outsourced to private companies. By the end of the 1990s, all of London’s councils were using CPZs. Manchester adopted them in 1999, Liverpool in 2002. Then the smaller rural councils followed suit. Now, 272 of the 326 local authorities in England have decriminalised parking.

“In every local authority area where CPZs were introduced, there has been at least a five-fold increase in the number of tickets issued,” says the parking campaigner Neil Herron as we drive around Sunderland on a sunny Monday morning. “It’s because the councils can keep the money. Under the old system, you were fined by the court and the money went to the Treasury. Now, the councils get it all. Herron has spent most of the last decade fighting what he sees as the mission creep of parking regulation.

He points out all the city-centre shops that have closed in recent months. Of course, it’s because of the recession, but the tough parking controls have, he says, pushed several small businesses into the abyss. There’s a boarded-up newsagent, a boarded-up grocer’s, a boarded-up furniture store, all gone to the wall, says Herron, because parking in town is a nightmare.
“Civil servants are no longer civil, or servants. Instead, we’ve let these petty officials accrue absolute power. Local authority regimes have come to depend on the vast rewards from parking enforcement to support and underpin their profligacy as a stealth tax,” he says, as a warden swaggers past.

When I ask Herron what he thinks about the spread of CCTV enforcement, he shrugs and says it’s part of our gradual transition into a Big Brother state. The AA calls it “Orwellian”. Paul Watters, the AA’s head of roads and transport policy, says things have got out of hand. “It’s not a moving offence. It’s not a speeding offence. And yet the fine is the same. And it simply isn’t fair if you’re getting a ticket from a camera you may not have even noticed. Where’s the discretion?”
The people in charge of the future of parking over in Westminster are moving to the next stage which they’re calling, rather frighteningly, smart enforcement. The ticketing machines that wardens carry are being upgraded. From now on, wardens won’t just ticket. They’ll feed information back to a central “compliance” database to enable controllers to “rapidly deploy” staff to problem areas. It’s the parking equivalent of a Swat team. The new handheld computers could also, the council hopes, “limit the enforcement options available to the warden depending on the type of parking offence committed, the location and any previous tickets issued to the motorist”.

Because, when you ask them, they like to show their touchy-feely side. They’re all about compliance rather than profit. They want to educate rather than penalise. And they’re keen to change the reputation of the civil enforcement officer as a ticket-happy jobsworth. That won’t be easy, as a glance over recent headlines shows.

June 28, 2007: “Traffic warden battered unconscious at soldier’s wake”;

December 18, 2007: “Traffic warden homophobically attacked in Blackpool”;

September 4, 2009: “Driver who caused injuries to traffic warden jailed”;

February 11, 2010: “Traffic warden has cigarette stubbed in his face”;

June 14, 2010: “Traffic warden attacked with knife in Northamptonshire”;

September 10, 2010: “Driver attempts to run down traffic warden in Croydon”.

Cherelle, egged on by Matt Rudd, slaps a PCN on a Land Rover in Soho
Cherelle is a traffic warden in Soho. Unlike Donald, she is a real person on the real streets giving out actual tickets. I join her for her evening patrol one Tuesday to see how it’s done, the old-fashioned way. It’s a chance, the council tells me, to see that not all parking-enforcement people are evil, that they may be doing the job for good reasons. Don’t judge me for this, but Cherelle and I start out getting on famously. When we meet, I’m nervous. I am, after all, a parking-enforcement officer by association. It’s getting dark. I’m going to be run down, have a cigarette put out in my face, be forced to go to Croydon. Cherelle, on the other hand, isn’t nervous at all. She loves her job. She gave up a career in marketing to do it. And although many of her colleagues might be moving up into the cyber-headquarters, she wouldn’t want to follow. “I’m happy walking the streets,” she says. “I like talking to people. If you can’t talk to people, you can’t see the whole picture.” It’s all about people skills, you see. Not all parking enforcement needs to be evil.

We’ll see. We walk past a brand-new Land Rover on Soho Square. I think it’s been pretty well established that a 4x4 is not ideally suited to central London.
As if to prove my point, this monster is crossing a good 10 inches into the neighbouring parking space.
“Can we ticket that?” I ask Cherelle, hopefully.
“Noooo,” she replies, because she is a reasonable parking-enforcement officer on an official media tour.
“Oh, come on,” I say. “It’s taking up two spaces.” If ever there was a reasonable time and place for parking enforcement, it’s right here, right now, on this Land Rover’s ass.
Cherelle starts issuing the ticket. He looks casual. Cherelle looks calm. I try to blend into the adjacent sex shop (not easy)
Because she doesn’t yet have the new handheld computer that will be controlling her movements via a mastermind central database, she checks with head office by mobile phone. And they say, yes — Offence 26: incorrect parking, or parking not within a bay. PCN-time. Kerching.

As Cherelle fills out the £60 fine (rising to £120 after 14 days, of course), a low-slung Toyota comes around the corner and slows down.
“How do you sleep at night?” yells the driver before cruising off down Greek Street.
Five minutes later, we’re having a face-off with a double-parked minicab driver who’s refusing to move because he’s eating his chicken and rice.
Cherelle starts issuing the ticket. He looks casual. Cherelle looks calm. I try to blend into the adjacent sex shop (not easy, lots of dildos).
“You do realise I’m going to issue you for being here?” she reiterates and starts taking photographs. Finally, he drives off, head bowed, battle lost. It’s been 10 minutes of confrontation. I ask Cherelle if she thinks she’ll suffer post-traumatic stress when she retires. She says she never takes her work home with her.

Water off a traffic warden’s back. She adds that she gets a lot of men flirting with her. It’s the uniform, she says. Now, Cherelle is a perfectly attractive lady, but to any man out there who finds that particular uniform alluring: that is niche, my friend. Seriously niche. They don’t even do websites for that sort of thing.

It’s halfway through our evening together and we’re at the sharp end. A truck is offloading in a suspended bay. Cherelle has her grumpy face on. The driver is nowhere to be seen. The driver’s mate is trying to stall her by doing jokes, diversion techniques and panic, but nothing’s working. She’s going to give the truck a ticket. This seems totally unfair. They aren’t blocking the road. They aren’t causing any trouble. They’re just trying to get some supplies into a local theatre.

This time, I try to blend into a coffee shop as things turn unreasonable. With seconds to spare, the driver emerges from a shop, slams the back door shut and hops into the front seat. With a sarcastic, nay triumphant wave, he drives off. “That was quite harsh,” I tell Cherelle. She’s astonished. “I think I was nice,” she says. “He had committed an offence and he was continuing to commit an offence. I talked to him.”
I’m out with the nicest parking-enforcement officer in London, the one they send out with journalists. And she still couldn’t give the lorry bloke an extra couple of minutes to offload his van. But at least she talked to him. If CCTV had been involved, the driver would have got a ticket.
Then, Cherelle goes rogue. A Spanish couple start videoing us. Cherelle, who had been doing a moped for parking on a pavement, storms over and, after a long chat, confiscates the DVD from their camera. “I don’t want to be on the internet doing this. The council would be furious. You can’t record people without permission,” she says. This isn’t strictly true. You can record what you like in public. It’s only when you stick it on YouTube that things get tricky.

A few minutes later, the Spanish boyfriend returns looking sheepish. He says he’s just remembered there’s something on the tape he wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Could he snap it in half?
And me and his very grumpy Spanish girlfriend watch as Cherelle agrees to let him destroy what was undoubtedly his prized London amateur porn movie.

I feel like a coffee break, but Cherelle is busy clearing an entire street of minicabs. She asks a frightened Chinese family to move on but ignores one illegally parked car because it’s a chauffeur waiting for an actor to come out of a studio. “I don’t ticket cars waiting for actors,” she explains. “Actors get enough hassle.” This is all mind-boggling to me, the civilian.

I ask her if she ever feels guilty and she says she once ticketed a car that she subsequently realised was owned by a disabled person. Then she felt bad. But she’s nothing like the big issuers, as she calls them. “They’ll stick a ticket on first and ask questions later. I don’t do that.”
Cherelle is hardcore — you have to be to do her job — but rather charming. Nevertheless, after three hours in her wake, I need two G&Ts on my 20-minute train home to steady my nerves.
Between you and me, it’s easy to get off a CCTV ticket. All you need to do is say that you were helping a pregnant women cross the road Councils will tell you that 10 years from now they expect to be issuing far fewer tickets. The dream for them and their third-party contractors is to achieve 95% compliance.

Fewer tickets sounds good, but what it means for the motorist is that you will do as you’re told. The days of dodging the warden will be over.
Set foot in a bus lane, put your tickers on in a loading bay, pull over for a couple of minutes to buy the wonderful Sunday Times as a newspaper, and you will be zapped. Gizmos such as portable CCTV, handheld computers and all-seeing compliance databases will be one step ahead of you. Orwellian indeed. Are there ways to resist? We could revolt. As Neil Herron says, you get a £70 fine if you shoplift, and £60 if you stop on a single yellow at the wrong time in front of a CCTV camera.
“The motoring public of this country has been treated as a cash cow for too long,” he says. “This is not just about a parking ticket ... it’s about how we are governed and the contempt with which we are held.
We have reached the watershed and it is now the time for change.” We could stand up to the councils and their cyber-parking attack dogs. We could stop paying our council tax until the £60 fine is halved and the 14-day doubling threat is abandoned. We could lock up all the civil enforcers for being horrid. But that’s not terribly British. It’s more French — and look at the mess they’re in.

We could tell a lie. Back in that windowless Marylebone control room, Donald had whispered a bit of advice just before I’d said goodbye. “Between you and me,” he confided, looking around nervously, “it’s easy to get off a CCTV ticket. All you need to do is say that you were helping a pregnant women cross the road just around the corner. Or an old woman get up some stairs. That sort of thing. The council won’t bother contesting your appeal. It’s too much hassle.”
Or we could forget parking altogether and take the train.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adur council oversight prompts parking ticket refunds

Now this is how it should be ... a lesson to all councils out there. Well done Adur and this follows on from a similar example set by South Tyneside, Sheffield and Guildford.

BBC News Sussex
An oversight by a Sussex council has led to people being wrongfully fined for parking offences in Shoreham.
Adur District Council said a parking order for the town's Ropetackle car park was inadvertently not completed in October 2008.

The error means people who paid to park were wrongfully charged, and those who received parking tickets were wrongfully fined. Refunds for Penalty Charge Notices are being organised with immediate effect.Machines suspended
The council said people did not need to contact the local authority for parking fine refunds.
People can claim refunds for pay and display charges at the Adur Civic Centre cash office between 11 November and 10 December, providing they have kept their Ropetackle car parking ticket. Ticket machines are currently suspended at the car park until a new order is in place, the council added. A 21-day consultation will run until 3 December, and the new order should come into force in early January.

Response from Adur Council ... an example to all

From: Ian Lowrie Sent: 10 November 2010 15:43
To: Neil Herron
RE: Adur Council restitution ... Clarification sought

Dear Mr Herron,
I am sure you will be pleased to know that I can confirm that we are contacting direct those people who received fines incorrectly. Whilst we did make the mistake that created the situation, the open admission of such an error is by far the best way to handle it in my experience. Then we can move on more rapidly to the positive actions we prefer to be associated with.
So it does appear that your email ends up as a compliment, though I regret your implicit comment that you find this exceptional or surprising. We always try to be open and straightforward whenever we can, as do most of the councils I know.
Best wishes
Ian Lowrie

Ian Lowrie - Chief Executive Chief Executive's Office, Adur District Council and Worthing Borough CouncilLocation: Town Hall, Chapel Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 1HAInternal: 1001 External: 01903 221001 E-mail:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Adur Council restitution ... Clarification sought

Mr Ian Lowrie
Chief Executive, Adur and Worthing Borough Councils
Adur District Council
Civic Centre, Ham Road
West Sussex, BN43 6PR
(01273) 263000

Dear Sir,

Un-completed traffic order for Ropetackle Car Park

I write in response to a BBC news report that Adur Council has suspended parking charges and parking contravention enforcement in consequence of some fatal omission in the traffic order that was intended to authorise the operation of this car park.
I see it also reported that "people do not need to contact the local authority for parking fine refunds".
I am accordingly writing to ask your clarification of this statement which I take to mean that Adur Council will be proactively identifying those who have paid penalty charges, for the purpose of refunding the penalty charges that were paid.

If this is the case then I compliment you and your officers for acting untypically in a correct, honest and exemplary manner that is commendably in contrast with many bad examples of what passes for lawful parking enforcement in this country.

I sincerely hope that you will be able to confirm that my understanding of the situation is correct.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Herron

Monday, November 15, 2010

BMF: Bike Parking - BMF Appeals for Appeal Funds

As the momentum grows and councils acrosss the country look to raise parking fines to London levels it is time for a full and frank debate on what the purpose of 'parking' enforcement is all about and where the role of traffic managament comes into the equation.

Thursday, 11, Nov 2010

The British Motorcyclists Federation is calling on all UK motorcyclists, no matter where they may live, to support the No To Bike Parking Tax campaign (NTBPT) against Westminster's on-street parking charges for motorcycles.

A strong supporter of the NTBPT campaign to overturn the parking charges imposed on motorcyclists by Westminster City Council, the bmf say that with a ruling last week that the High Court may have got it wrong in judging that the charges were legal, and with what was said to be 'a good prospect of success at the re-trial', now is the time to really get behind the campaign.

But with the Court of Appeal Hearing listed for mid-March, there is a desperate need for legal funding. The fund has already passed the £5,000 mark, but at least £20,000 will be required for the appeal case to be properly presented. Motorcyclists donating* the cost of a couple of gallons of petrol could make all the difference say the bmf.

The bmf's Government Relations Executive Chris Hodder, said: "Make no mistake about it, this is not just a London issue, the High Court ruling that Westminster's parking charges for motorcycles are legal could well signal the end of free parking for motorcyclists across the UK. That's why this case is important, that's why this funding is important, and without it we cannot succeed."

In order to maintain the protest's high profile, the latest in a series of protest rides is to be held on Sunday 5th December around London's North and South circular routes. To be known as the 'Ace to Ace - the North & South Circular Run', the fund-raising ride leaves the world famous Ace Café, North Circular, Stonebridge, at 10.30hrs and returns at around 16.00hrs.
Although all riders are welcome to join the protest, it is also hoped that whether they attend or not, motorcyclists can donate £10 each to the legal challenge fund.

Fund donations should be made to: 'NTBPT' SORT CODE: 40-02-35, A/C 11411047.

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