THE Government is being urged to crack down on parking firms accused of raking in cash from motorists in Hampshire by using CCTV.
Ministers are set to ban councils’ use of “spy cars” to hand out fines in on-street parking bays as part of a crackdown on “over-zealous” parking enforcement.
But they have been criticised for targeting councils and not taking action to help thousands of motorists hit with fines in privately-run car parks where firms also use CCTV cameras.
Recently motorists told the Daily Echo of being hit with £100 fines after being caught out by a new parking system operated by Parking Eye at Leisure World.
They say they did not see signs informing them of the changes, although Parking Eye says there are a number of signs at the site.
The firm also came under fire after using CCTV to monitor cars going in and out of the car park in Town Quay, including motorists dropping off people or who did not actually park in a bay.
They would then fall victim to the fines, with motorists again saying there were not enough signs to let them know about the system.
And residents Chris Lemon and Sue Harris beat Parking Eye in a legal battle after the firm handed them £100 fines for overstaying the permitted time in a car park at The Range in Shirley.
The pair refused to pay, arguing there was no signage to tell them about the time limit and accusing the firm of “profiteering”. A judge ruled in their favour when Parking Eye took them to court.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has criticised some councils for being “greedy” by using CCTV “spy cars” to enforce on-street parking, and using residents as a “cash cow”.
It is understood the restrictions will not affect councils in Hampshire, which do not operate “spy cars” and use parking wardens to monitor on-street parking bays.
The law change means parking officers have to put parking notices on cars, while councils cannot use CCTV footage to issue tickets through the post, except outside schools and in bus lanes, bus stops and red routes.
The plans will also give residents and businesses the ability to call for reviews of parking enforcement in their area and give more power to parking “adjudicators”, who could intervene when there have been complaints about inadequate signage or other issues in parking enforcement areas.
But ministers are being criticised for not doing enough to clamp down on private parking enforcement firms who use CCTV and number plate recognition technology to identify motorists in car parks.
Having captured number plates on cameras private firms can currently access motorists’ private details on the DVLA database to send them fines through the post.
But with the Government unlikely to be able to ban private use of CCTV and number plate recognition technology there are renewed calls for Westminster to withhold the database from companies found to be acting incorrectly, thus making their CCTV useless.
Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, who is pressing the Government to act, said: “It seems very odd there is one set of rules for the public sector and one for the private sector.
“The issue is that is every effort being made to make sure motorists are properly informed that parking restrictions are in existence?
“All of the problems we have had in Southampton have been that it hasn’t been clear and companies are raking in money from people who didn’t know.
“That’s what the Government should be regulating. It ought to be possible to find a system that should work and that’s where the Government should be turning their fire.
“One thing the Government could do is not allow companies access to the DVLA database if they aren’t behaving correctly. “That would mean the CCTV would be useless as they wouldn’t be able to send out fines to people through the post.”
Earlier this year New Forest East MP Julian Lewis also called for the database to be scrapped, although the Government said it would not change the current rules.
Dr Lewis said: “We will continue pressing the Government that they should require the accredited body for the industry, the British Parking Association (BPA), to enforce their code of conduct fully.
“If they did that then you would have far fewer instances, similar to what happened to my constituents, of people being unfairly fined and clamped.”
Ms Lemon agreed, adding: “It should be in the Government’s hands to do something about this, because they have power over the DVLA database, but they won’t accept that companies are sometimes not keeping to the rules.”
A spokesman for Hampshire-based motoring organisation the AA said: “There is definitely a need for more regulation for parking on private land.
“Obviously the private landowners need to be protected from selfish drivers who think they have some divine right wherever they park.
“But at the same time drivers will make mistakes or park on land that they think is effectively legitimate because there is nothing to say they shouldn’t, or where there is a danger of enforcement that is so draconian that it is completely unfair.
“If the parking enforcement community can’t tighten up their act and act more fairly then the authorities need to step in to make sure they do.”
Conservative Under-Secretary of State for Transport Stephen Hammond had previously said the Government has “no plans” to change the current policy allowing parking firms access to the database.
He said: “The DVLA has a number of safeguards in place to ensure that the data is released only where it is fair and lawful to do so”.
Parking Eye has said its charges are all in line with the BPA’s code of practice, which says that “conspicuous and legible” signs explaining rules must be positioned around car parks.