Councils use parking charges and fines to pay for the cost of parking services
Parking charges are providing huge cash surpluses for some English councils, according to the RAC Foundation.
The 359 councils across England had a total current account surplus of £565m from on and off-street parking schemes in 2011-12, according to the figures.
Eight of the biggest 10 surpluses came from London councils with Westminster leading the way with a £41.6m profit.
Westminster City Council disputed many of the figures but said it would work with motorists to reduce fines.
The other two councils outside London making the top 10 were Brighton and Hove in sixth with £14.4m and Cornwall in eighth with £7.9m.
The total profit represented a £54m increase on the surplus from 2010-11 and only 52 of the councils reported a deficit on their 2011-12 parking operations.
The RAC Foundation figures, produced for them by transport consultant David Leibling, are from the annual returns councils are required to provide to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
They are based on three factors – on-street parking charges, off-street parking charges and parking penalties.
Running costs of parking operations are deducted from this total to produce the surplus or deficit figure.
Transport minister Norman Baker said: “The law is quite clear. Councils should not be pricing their parking in order to make a profit.
“Any monies raised from parking in excess of the cost of administration has to go back to transport purposes which can be dealing with pot holes, improved road management or can be investing in public transport to encourage people to free up the roads.
While disputing many of the figures, Westminster City Council still signalled its intention to work with motorists and road users.
Local Government Association’s David Sparks: “Local authorities are reviewing their parking charges”
Councillor Daniel Astaire, Westminster City Council cabinet member for business, said: “The system is already changing and councils are already looking to work with motorists to issue fewer fines and crucially increase the amount of people parking correctly.
“Parking is about traffic management, tackling congestion and trying to implement positive benefits for businesses and high streets.
“If we stay in this Jurassic age of pure rhetoric about cash cows and money making, innovation will be stifled and we cannot engage with motorists properly in order to find the best solutions that will benefit everyone.”
Kensington and Chelsea Council made the second biggest surplus of £28.1m and a spokesman told BBC London: “There is a greater demand for parking spaces in Kensington and Chelsea than practically anywhere else in the country.
“The council has discretion on how to spend any surplus that may arise, within the allowable purposes provided for by Section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.”
Havering Council had the second lowest figures in London, despite its surplus of £703,000 having gone up by £563,000.
A spokeswoman said: “These latest figures show our commitment to giving residents and visitors to the borough value for money, as well as showing our support for local high streets and as a result the wider economy.
“Havering has so much to offer and parking charges are a key factor in encouraging people to shop in the borough and improving trade for businesses.
Is technology the answer to London’s parking problems? BBC London’s Tom Edwards finds out
“Despite being the third largest London borough, parking charges in Havering are still among the lowest in London and have stayed the same for several years. But in April this year, we cut prices even further.”
Councillor Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board, said: “Parking revenue is spent on paying for parking services.
“Any money left over goes towards transport services like filling potholes, concessionary travel and road improvement projects.
“As the report makes clear, many councils have to subsidise parking services as the cost is not covered by charges.
“Parking charges and fines help councils keep traffic flowing and pedestrians and motorists safe.”
Professor Stephen Glaister, from the RAC Foundation: “Temptation to ramp up charges to pay for general council budget”
On Wednesday, government figures showed that money made from parking charges and fines by English councils is set to continue to rise.
The councils expect that net income from parking services is likely to increase from £601m in 2012-13 to £635m in 2013-14.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “This municipal parking profit shows why we need to review and rein in unfair town hall parking rules. The law is clear that parking is not a tax or cash cow for town hall officers.”
Last week, the High Court ruled against Barnet Council’s move to raise the cost of residents’ parking permits in a landmark victory for campaigners.
Mrs Justice Lang ruled that the council acted unlawfully when it increased permit costs to generate more money for road maintenance.