Is this the end for rip-off council parking fees? Barnet residents win landmark court battle against parking permit hikes

This article appeared on the thisismoney.co.uk website – Is this the end for rip-off council parking fees? Barnet residents win landmark court battle against permit hikes.

  • Residents argued price hikes made parking in Barnet’s residential streets ‘more expensive than parking outside Harrods’
  • Case could prevent other councils from using parking charges to raise revenue for other transport purposes
  • Cost of parking leaped from £40 to £100 in 2011 in the north London borough

Residents in a north London borough today won a landmark High Court victory against increased parking charges, in a victory that could have implications for drivers around the country.

A judge ruled Barnet council acted unlawfully when it hiked the cost of residents’ parking permits and visitor vouchers in controlled parking zones to raise revenue.

The cost of a permit leaped in 2011 from £40 to £100 for the first car and visitor vouchers rose from £1 to £4.

The council intended to use the additional income from the charges to meet projected expenditure for road maintenance and improvements, concessionary fares and other road transport costs.

But Mrs Justice Lang declared at London’s High Court that the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act ‘is not a fiscal measure and does not authorise the authority to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes’.

Objectors complained that the increases had made parking in Barnet’s quiet residential streets ‘more expensive than parking outside Harrods’.

They argued that around 10 per cent of Barnet residents who lived in CPZs were heavily subsidising transport services for the whole borough.

The ruling is thought to be the first successful legal challenge against the level of parking charges set by a local authority and could see thousands of Barnet residents reclaim millions of pounds in unlawfully collected charges.

Had Barnet fought off today’s challenge, local councils all over the country would have found themselves with sweeping powers to use parking as a revenue-raising service.

The ruling was a victory for the Barnet CPZ Action group, made up of parents and residents from the borough, and David Attfield, who brought the lead case.

Mr Attfield, who lives in a borough CPZ at East Finchley, won the quashing of the council’s decision in February 2011 to dramatically increase the charges with effect from April 2011.

The judge rejected arguments put forward by council lawyers that it had powers under section 45 of the 1984 Act to raise a surplus from parking charges for transport functions.

There were no parking charges in Mr Attfield’s quiet residential road until the CPZ was first introduced in 2001 to prevent tube commuters parking in local streets.

The cost of a permit for a first car was initially £20 and visitor vouchers cost 35p each. The charges were increased in 2006. But it was in 2011 that they leapt for a first car from £40 to £100 and visitors’ vouchers from £1 to £4 – among the highest CPZ charges in London.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said of today’s ruling quashing the increases: ‘This is fantastic news for drivers.

‘This decision should never have been in any doubt. The law is explicit – parking charges are about managing congestion, not raising revenue.

‘If there is a surplus collected then there are strict rules on what it can be used for. The question is: why did Barnet ever think it had an arguable case to pick on one group of residents to shoulder an additional tax?’

Barnet council leader, Richard Cornelius, conceded that the increase in charges had been carried out ‘too abruptly and rather charmlessly’, but said there would be an appeal.

Mr Cornelius said: ‘Both our pricing and spending are very much in line with other London boroughs and I very much believe that our spending of the income from our parking account on items such as road maintenance and transport services is entirely within the scope of the special parking account under the Road Traffic Act.

‘With that in mind I don’t think we have any alternative but to look to appeal this decision.

‘That said it is fairly clear that the council raised the price of parking permits, after five years of a price freeze, too abruptly and rather charmlessly. I will make sure that doesn’t happen again.’

The judge ordered the council to repay the parking charges unlawfully obtained from Mr Attfield, plus his legal costs. This opens the way for other residents to seek their money back.

The judge formally rejected Barnet’s application to appeal against her ruling, but the council can still ask the Court of Appeal itself to hear the groundbreaking case.

Mrs Justice Lang said her orders against Barnet would be stayed until the appeal court makes a decision.

Mr Attfield said after his victory: ‘Barnet Council has been caught picking the pockets of CPZ residents.

‘Despite making up less than 10 per cent of the borough, they were being made to contribute disproportionately to a range of services such as road repairs and the provision of bus passes across the borough.

‘Simply holding a summer BBQ or a children’s party could cost £40 in parking charges. An elderly person enjoying regular visits from a relative could face an annual cost of £800.

‘Today’s judgment confirms what I have maintained all along: that Parliament never intended local authorities to take a large cut every time a book club meets, mums get together for coffee or a washing machine is repaired.

‘It is regrettable that Barnet has spent over two years, and tens of thousands of pounds, standing by their charges which they should have known were legally and morally wrong.’