Read signs to avoid parking fines

The issue of parking fines has scarcely been out of the news this month, with the EDP reporting a series of disputes across Norfolk. So what rights do you have when parking on private land - and are parking tickets worth the paper they're written on? JON WELCH investigates.

The issue of parking fines has scarcely been out of the news this month, with the EDP reporting a series of disputes across Norfolk. So what rights do you have when parking on private land - and are parking tickets worth the paper they're written on? JON WELCH investigates.

For most drivers, parking fees are an irritating but unavoidable part of life.

Parking fines, on the other hand, can leave even the calmest of motorists seething - especially when they amount to £60 or more for going over the time limit by just a few minutes.

Now drivers are being warned to take extra care to read signs carefully before using private car parks to avoid being hit with heavy penalties - and if in doubt to steer clear.

If you have already received a parking ticket, however, there is bad news. Unless you can prove the conditions for parking were not properly displayed, you will either have to pay up or dispute the matter in the court.

The warnings follow a spate of complaints from motorists over fines at car parks across Norfolk. This month the EDP has reported a number of cases at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn.

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They included that of cancer patient Julia Williamson, fined £40 after a session of blood tests overran, and Denise Allen, of Swaffham, fined £80 for parking in a disabled space after taking her injured daughter to hospital. The hospital later waived the fines.

Last week staff and patients of Thetford Community Healthy Living Centre spoke of their anger at receiving £60 fines for parking in what they thought were overflow spaces.

Customers at Norwich Retail Park, part of the Riverside complex, were also angry, branding the two-hour time limit and fines of up to £60 as “ridiculous”. A spokesman for retailer Woolworths, said the company was also unhappy with the policy and was challenging it.

In these cases, car park operator G24 contacted the vehicle owners after tracing them through information supplied by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

John Barnard, of Swaffham, was sent a £40 fine after his daughter Caroline, 24, was caught on a CCTV camera over-staying the two-hour period for free parking. She had been driving a Renault Megane registered to him.

Mr Barnard, 57, said he would not pay the fine, which has since been increased to £60, and would be prepared to go to court. “The only way that these parking firms can get our details from a number plate is by buying them from the DVLA which surely ought to be illegal under the Data Protection Act,” he said.

Neil Greig, assistant director of the IAM Motoring Trust, said: “We're concerned at the whole idea that the DVLA is selling these names and addresses to other agencies.

“People would support the idea of their motoring information being held by the DVLA for enforcement of speeding and serious motoring offences, but not that the DVLA should be sharing that information for commercial purposes. They do not expect that of a government agency.”

Mr Greig had the following advice for motorists: “If you are thinking about parking on a piece of land on which there is any shadow of doubt that there may be clamping notices or some sort of enforcement activity, don't risk it.”

He advised motorists who did receive a ticket to check with the landowner that whoever had issued it had permission. “If not, you can ignore it,” he said.

In other cases, he said, ignoring the tickets was unwise. “There may be a whole range of further penalties.

“In many cases it won't be pursued, but it really comes down to whether you want to risk them pursuing you through the courts.”

He advised motorists in this position to seek legal advice.

Don Sheahan, a partner in the disputes team at East Anglian law firm Kester Cunningham John, said parking fees on private land were governed by contract law.

“If an owner of private land is willing to permit parking he should put up a notice confirming that and listing all the conditions he is setting for parking,” he said.

“If you are clear what the terms are and you park on the land it's difficult to argue against them.”

The only grounds for disputing such a charge would be if the conditions had not been properly displayed.

“If you are able to argue that it was a small notice hidden away where it would not normally be seen then you may have a case.”