Harrogate Borough Council has made record profits from off-street parking fees and fines, with motorists footing a £3.7m bill in the past year.
A new report published by the RAC shows that charges and penalties paid in the borough led to a £2.1m profit for the council – an increase of almost nine per cent on the figures for 2013/14.
Harrogate’s surplus puts it in 82nd place out of all the 353 local authorities in England and Wales, which generated a combined profit of £693 million from parking.
Coun Rebecca Burnett, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport, said: “The borough council is only responsible for regulating the use of off-street car parks and did not increase car parking charges in 2014/15.
“The increased income was generated from increased car park usage and reduced costs involved in running the service.”
Coun Burnett emphasised there was no requirement to ring-fence the profit and the money was used to support other council services across the district, including parks and gardens, leisure centres, swimming pools and affordable housing. It also goes towards the upkeep of the authority’s car parks.
In response to whether funds could be ploughed back into free parking in the run-up to Christmas, she said: “It’s something we would have to look at as part of the budget process. At the moment the money is reinvested into council services. If we were to carry out any ‘free’ schemes which would cost the council, we would have to look at what we currently support with the money and whether we could divert it away from that.”
Coun Burnett was unable to make any assurances that parking fees in off-street car parks would remain frozen in 2015/16. However, she stressed that there would have to be a traffic management reason to alter them.
“We aren’t planning for any changes, as yet there are no reasons to, but we have to accept that something might come up. If that is the case it doesn’t mean higher rates, there is a chance they could also be lowered,” she said.
Bulging profits come as local councils remain under intense pressure to balance their accounts in the face of substantial grant funding cuts from Whitehall.
Describing the overall profits generated by local authority parking as “eye-watering”, Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The legal position is that parking charges are to be used as a tool for managing traffic. But with local government budgets under ever-greater pressure the temptation to see them as a fundraiser must be intense.
“The precarious financial state of many councils is a genuine concern, not least when it comes to the risk of a cut in road maintenance spending which will hit every one of us. A funding solution requires national and local government to look beyond the High Street parking meter.”
The RAC’s analysis is based on figures returned to the Department for Communities and Local Government by local councils. The figures were calculated by taking income from parking charges and penalty notices, then deducting running costs.
Parking profits from local councils in London contributed the most (44 per cent) to the national surplus and in Yorkshire, Leeds City Council recorded the biggest profit, some £7.2m, compared to £6.8m the year before.
Profits were next highest in the region in York (£5.5m), Scarborough (£3.5m), Sheffield (£2.5m) and then Harrogate, with none of the area’s local authorities among the 57 councils that reported negative numbers.
The overall profit rise is accounted for by increased parking income and not reduced running costs, the RAC said.
Meanwhile senior members and officers from Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council are due to meet at County Hall in Northallerton on Monday to hold crunch talks on parking provision in Harrogate.
It comes after the Harrogate Area Committee called for a review into plans to introduce Sunday and evening on-street parking charges in the town centre.
The meeting will see the leader of the county council, Coun Carl Les, and executive member for highways, Coun Don Mackenzie, discuss the proposals in detail with the leader of the borough council, Coun Richard Cooper, and Coun Rebecca Burnett, cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport. Senior highways and transport officers from both authorities will also contribute.
Coun Mackenzie said: “I would like to stress again the proposals to introduce Sunday and evening parking charges is not a fundraising measure, it’s strictly speaking a traffic management measure.
“The meeting is very much to determine how we can better manage parking in Harrogate town centre.”
Coun Mackenzie said shoppers were currently “hard-pressed” to get a parking space in the main shopping area in Harrogate town centre on a Sunday and they were often forced to drive around to find a parking spot, which was not a “good way to manage traffic in Harrogate”.
“That’s why officers have proposed these changes,” he said. “National parking guidelines stress that wherever possible you should keep on-street parking spaces next to shops available for people who want to come in and park for short spaces of time. At the moment a person can park their car on a Saturday evening and leave it in a space up until 8am on Monday morning. That person doesn’t go shopping in Harrogate and they are taking up valuable parking space.
“We are suggesting better traffic management, which will be better for businesses.”
Referring again to national parking guidelines, Coun Mackenzie said people who wanted to park for longer periods were advised to use off-street parking facilities provided by Harrogate Borough Council.
“There is currently no incentive to do that and it’s that discrepancy we are trying to address.”
Coun Mackenzie said the same reasoning had been applied to plans to extend parking charges from 6pm to 7pm.
He said: “If people want to spend the whole evening in Harrogate they can park off-street and after 7pm they can park on-street free of charge.
“These are things we are going to discuss next week.
“We are holding the meeting quickly because I’m very conscious that the proposals come to the executive at the county council early in the New Year so whatever decision is taken can be effective from April 1.”
Coun Mackenzie stressed that any profits North Yorkshire County Council makes from on-street parking are all spent on transport and highways matters, such as concessionary fares, which cost the authority £8m each year.
“We are not making funds to fill our coffers, we make them in order to make improvements in Harrogate,” he said.