COUNCIL chiefs are looking to update the city’s car parking strategy after it came under fire for losing hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Sunderland City Council was recently named in a study as the only North East local authority to record a loss in its parking enforcement – haemorrhaging £362,000 last financial year.
In contrast, neighbouring County Durham had a surplus of £383,000, while Newcastle made £6million.
Sunderland’s Tory transport spokesman Peter Wood said: “These figures show that yet again, Sunderland City Council is the only authority losing taxpayers money providing car parking in its city centre.
“We are the 355th worst performing council in the country for parking. It just underlines the extent to which we need to attract many more users to the city’s car parks.
“Newcastle, by comparison, enjoyed a surplus of more than £6million and that includes their free parking after 5pm initiative. Even Hartlepool managed more than £400,000 surplus – and North Tyneside £800,000.
“We need badly and quickly an attractive parking offer – well marketed – for car users to persuade them to come to Sunderland. It needs to be cheap, with a simple charging structure and the inducement of free parking – either for the first hour or two or ‘free after three’ later in the day.
“Hopefully things will at least begin to improve when the BID (business improvement district) becomes involved later in the year.”
But Councillor James Blackburn, Sunderland City Council’s Portfolio Holder for City Services, said parking charges are not seen as a money-making scheme, but agreed to look again at the city’s parking arrangements of the next few months. Parking in Sunderland is more than just a revenue collecting exercise, it has always been a public service,” Coun Balckburn said. “No doubt if the council was running a surplus it would also have its detractors.
“The service is about improving road safety, reducing congestion in the interests of all highways users, plus supporting economic activity across the city.
“However, the council has been reviewing and looking to update and refresh its parking strategy. Further details on this are due over the next few months.”
The RAC Foundation study is based on annual returns to the Department for Communities and Local Government, and includes revenue from on-street parking permits, off-street charges and parking penalties for 2011- 12. These are offset against the cost of running parking operations, leaving some councils – including Sunderland – with a deficit.