Investigation: Should private car parks be regulated in Norfolk?
13:10 16 August 2014
Increasingly private-land is being used as makeshift car parks. But are the laws slanted too much towards the companies monitoring them than the general public? Rosa McMahon reports.
No more clamping
Wheel-clampers were outlawed from clamping vehicles on private land in 2012.
Unpaid ticket charges can be claimed from the keeper of the vehicle and the driver.
And although people call them fines, parking tickets issued on private land are actually called ‘Parking Charge Notices’.
They are different to ‘Penalty Charge Notices’ issued by councils or the police on public land.
Like, tax, petrol prices and the offside law, the issue of parking fines is a contentious one – with many saying they are simply a nice little earner for private companies.
In fact being slapped with a ticket has become such a vexed issue that latest figures show around 600 Brits a week are appealing after being fined while on privately-owned land.
According to the official watchdog, Parking on Private Land Appeals Service (POPLA), that number has increased 12-fold in just two years.
In Norwich, the subject has recently come to the fore after hundreds of drivers were caught at Whitlingham Country Park by private firm Parking Eye, hired to catch people on CCTV who do not park for the time they have paid for.
How to appeal
• Do not pay the parking charge if you want to appeal.
• You can only appeal to POPLA after you have made your case to the operator who issued the parking charge notice and that operator has rejected these and issued a POPLA appeal form.
• You will be given a verification code by the operator with the rejection. You will need the verification code to appeal online.
• If you want to appeal, you must do so with 28 days of date of the operator’s notice of rejection.
• But you can only appeal to POPLA if:
a) The car was not parked where stated on the parking charge notice, if you believe you were still within the time you paid for, if the voucher was clearly displayed or the signs were poor.
b)If you are being asked to pay the wrong amount for the parking charge or that the charge has already been paid.
c) If the vehicle was stolen
• You can appeal by visiting www.popla.org.uk/appeal.htm
In just one year Parking Eye made £90,000 from the site near Trowse – just £10,000 less than the beauty spot themselves made from parking tickets, covering its vital maintenance and upkeep.
The issues raised around Whitlingham, mirrored those voiced elsewhere in the country.
They include parking fines being too high, poor signage warning of restrictions and potential punishment and drivers being given small grace periods for going over time.
The government has recently announced a ban on councils using CCTV spy cars and other measures to make it fairer for drivers parking on publicly-owned land.
Landlord defends private parking company
The owner of the Trowel and Hammer Inn on St Stephens Road in Norwich defended his decision to use a private company to monitor his car park.
Ben Duraj, 37, has CCTV cameras on the land which catches people if they do not either use his pub or pay to park there for the day.
Mr Duraj charges £4 for all day parking at the central spot – or it is free for punters.
But after shoppers started abusing the parking space he decide it was time to act and brought in Norwich Traffic Control.
“We put the signs up to stop people parking and then going in to the city without paying,” he said.
“It’s my business, if you park somewhere you have to pay for it.
“It’s the same all over the city. You can’t get anything for free.”
But law around companies policing private areas remains minimal.
The AA’s head of roads policy Paul Watters wants regulation of private parking firms by an independent body, the government or local authorities.
He said it would stop firms “reaping in revenue to reward themselves”.
And Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, has echoed that call, urging the government to bring in a code of conduct.
“There should be a lead from a national and local level, and it should be a regulated process,” he said.
“That level of regulation would help to eradicated people who see it as a way of making money, rather than providing a service.”
Ministers have been criticised for not doing enough to clamp down on private parking firms, such as Private Eye, who use number plate recognition to identify drivers.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles conceded the government would stand up to any “rogue practices”.
But Great Yarmouth MP and former local government and high streets minister Brandon Lewis rebuked calls for greater regulation.
Instead he insisted parking costs and fines must be made fair to encourage people to partake in community life.
“Over-zealous parking enforcement and stealth fines are unfair,” he said. “Treating visitors as cash cows is also bad for tourism.
“Private car park contracts should be negotiated with the interests of the community in mind and adhere to industry standards of ‘reasonable grace periods’ and signs that are clearly visible so people don’t fall foul of the rules.”
Many firms use CCTV to patrol car parks in supermarkets, pubs, shops and more.
Once they have captured number plates on CCTV, the firms can access motorists’ details on the DVLA database to post out fines.
But Mr Watters, from the AA, said that needs to change: “The Government must introduce a system whereby, when your address is given to a parking company by DVLA, the DVLA tells you this has happened and what your legal rights are.
“This will at least give vehicle owners a chance to be warned before the £100 demand arrives.”
POPLA’s annual report says there has been a “sudden growth” in tickets being issued by private companies – with a staggering 23,500 appeals assessed in the last across the country.
Companies operating in Norfolk, many of them national, include Car Park Solutions, who had 41 appeals made against them, Norfolk Parking Enforcement, with 59, Norwich Traffic Control, 45, RCP Parking, seven, and Parking Eye with 6,058 appeals.
What do you think? Have you been hit by an unfair parking fine? Email firstname.lastname@example.org