England Lockdown II – How will it affect councils’ parking revenue?

On Halloween, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new month-long  lockdown in England. This was in response to a rapid increase in cases and hospitalisations, particularly in northern England.

What are the new rules?

Until December 2nd, all non-essential shops, hospitality businesses and gyms must remain closed. People must stay at home as much as possible, although they may travel to work if they cannot perform their job at home. Unlike the previous UK-wide lockdown which began in March, schools, colleges and universities remain open.

What impact did the first national lockdown have on parking revenue?

In the first lockdown, which began in March, local authorities all over the country reported a sharp fall in revenue from parking tickets and fines.

Last month, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that UK councils’ overall parking fine revenue fell by 71% between April and June – when the strictest lockdown restrictions were in place. The FOI – which was sent to 20 of the largest metropolitan councils and the 23 London boroughs – found that total PCN revenue was down by about £41 million from April to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

But are we likely to see a similar loss in revenue in the current lockdown?

Reduced traffic would usually mean there is less demand for parking

By Thursday, November 5th – the first day of the new lockdown – traffic levels in major cities had fallen significantly. Data from TomTom show that congestion on roads in London between 11am and noon on that day was less than half (19%) of what it was a week before (40%), while congestion in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol also fell by a statistically significant margin.

Now, this might imply a reduced demand for parking and less revenue on offer for councils – but traffic volume is only part of the picture.

Here are some reasons why the current lockdown may not hurt parking revenue as much as the previous one

While some councils are offering free parking during this lockdown, others have decided to continue with their current fee structure. For example, Wiltshire Council, which provided free parking in the first lockdown, confirmed that fees will remain in place in all of its car parks this time. Cllr Bridge Wayman, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport said that the government had not provided any new guidance in relation to car parking charges. However, the new lockdown rules do allow car parks to remain open. 

While it may seem confusing to hear about busy car parks when the government is telling us all to stay at home – if you look at the fine print you will see that people are still permitted to meet with others outdoors – as long as they remain 2 metres apart. Playgrounds are also allowed to stay open, unlike last time when they had to be closed.

In the first lockdown, many local authorities closed public car parks – but the situation is different this time. For example, Forestry England announced that the New Forest’s car parks will stay open this time, despite being closed in the first lockdown. All other forests managed by Forestry En-gland remain open, although the executive agency warns that people should spend time/exercise outdoors in their local area.

Despite the government’s stay-at-home message, some councils reported that car parks were in very high demand in some areas.

For example, Bradgate Park in the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire was full on Saturday, November 7th, prompting Bradgate Park Trust to issue a visitor update advising people to travel to other nearby country parks or woodlands instead. Similar scenes occurred at Clayton Windmills Car Park in the South Downs: Mid Sussex Police reported that the car park was so busy that people had ‘parked in the pull-in spaces’ on a narrow approach lane. 

With all non-essential shops, hospitality venues and gyms closed, many families and couples are making the most of the outdoors and the autumn colours – especially as temperatures are well above average for the time of year. In normal times, a family might spend a Saturday afternoon browsing the shops; during a lockdown, the same family might spend this time going for a long walk at their nearest national park.

And what about on-street parking?

Since the pandemic began, many councils have turned on-street parking spaces into additional walking space for pedestrians in order to facilitate social distancing – following new government guidance on social distancing in public spaces.

But the government claims some councils haven failed to implement this guidance effectively

In a letter sent on October 16th, Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, expressed concerns about some of the schemes that councils had implemented with the Emergency Active Travel Funding – designed to help councils reallocated road space for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Mr Shapps claimed that ‘a notable number of councils’ were ‘out of step with the needs of their local communities’. 

He elaborated by referring to public and parliamentary colleagues’ accounts of situations where temporary cycle lanes remained unused, leading to increased congestion in town centres. He stressed the importance of balancing ‘the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the needs of other road-users’, adding that councils must pass these key tests in order to receive further funding for these schemes.

Back in May, Mr Shapps announced the £225 million Emergency Active Travel Funding to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. However, in the letter, he also warned that councils could receive ‘considerably less’ funding in the next round of funding unless they arrange adequate consultations on the schemes.

The response from councils

Earlier, in September, local authority leaders criticised Shapps after he suggested some councils were ‘abusing’ cash used for schemes to help manage traffic.

London Assembly Member, Highbury East ward Councillor and Green Party Transport Spokesperson Caroline Russell, said the government ‘should provide clearer guidance’ and allocate the remaining 80% of the cash they promised to help councils manage their traffic. 

Cllr Nigel Quinton of Handside and Peartree in Hertfordshire said the Department for Transport was to blame for some of the ‘ill-conceived road closures’ by forcing councils to accept goals that were ‘impossible to meet’.

Some councillors have been critical of their own schemes too

In Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, a pop-up cycle route which cost approximately £75,000 is being removed because it is too dangerous. The new layout, introduced by Birmingham City Council – will also cost thousands of pounds to be reversed. 

Town councillors of Royal Sutton Coldfield said that while they wanted to improve cycling routes and the transportation network as a whole, this ‘waste’ of money could have been avoided. Cllr David Pears of Sutton Trinity ward said he ‘never wanted to see money being wasted on anything’, describing the new cycle layout as a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ which didn’t include proper consultation.

Birmingham City Council defended itself by pointing out that the pop-up cycle lane was one of the schemes funded by the Emergency Active Travel Fund. The council said these schemes had ‘very tight timescales for delivery’ – set by the Government, which meant there was not enough time for detailed consultations.

The latest advice from the British Parking Association, London Councils and Local Government Association

On November 5th,  the British Parking Association, London Councils and Local Government Association published Version 11 of their ‘Local Authority Parking and Traffic Management Operational Advice during Covid-19’.

The detailed guidance can be found here, but here are some of the key takeaways:

On and Off-Street Enforcement Activities
Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOS)
Taking PCN Payments
Debt registration and enforcement
Charging for parking
Loss of income and funding
Social distancing and reducing virus transmission risks
Repurposing of kerb space
Covid-19-related parking concessions
Government Parking Pass Scheme for Critical Care Workers 

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