Rocketing car-parking fines help Sunderland City Council service make a £1m-plus profit

A rocketing number of car-parking fines helped a loss-making council service make a £1m-plus profit in just three years.

Sunday, 19th January 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 12:20 pm
A sign outlining charges and penalties outside the Civic Centre car-park in Sunderland city centre.
A sign outlining charges and penalties outside the Civic Centre car-park in Sunderland city centre.

New figures obtained by the Sunderland Echo show how the fortunes of Sunderland City Council’s parking service were transformed from a £205,359 deficit in 2014-15 to a £1,044,984 surplus by the end of 2017-18.

The statistics, released through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, also reveal that it has made a near £3m profit over the last four full financial years.

They additionally suggest that the number of individual fines for on and off-street parking offences – known collectively as Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) – rose more than fourfold within this period.

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Parking permit signs in Tunstall Terrace West, near Sunderland city centre. Picture by FRANK REID.

The service’s transformation has also coincided with an increase in the number of permit parking zones across the city centre and its suburbs.

FOI figures show that the number of such areas – whose aims include protecting residents living near the likes of Sunderland Royal Hospital, the Stadium of Light and the city centre – has risen from two in 2014 to 11 by the end of the 2018-19 financial year.

It has now emerged that two more residential permit zones, known officially as Community Parking Management (CPM) schemes, are planned in the Ashbrooke and Hendon areas of the city.

The council maintains it is difficult to estimate for certain how significant parking fines have been towards the service’s transformation.

Signs at then entrance to Sunderland's Newcastle Road car parking permit area .

It cites revenue from an increased number of car-parking spaces and from popular events such as the 2018 Tall Ships’ Races as other factors.

The authority insists too that parking surpluses are reinvested in transport services across the city.

Our FOI request also reveals that permit parking zones currently cover more than six times the length of highway than they did in 2014 – soaring from 39,083 square miles to 258,412 square miles.

In that time, the number of tickets issued for flouting permit restrictions has escalated by more than 2,000% from 180 to 3,999.

Permit parking restrictions are planned for The Grove and West Lawn, in Ashbrooke, Sunderland.

The amount of revenue generated by these penalties has also increased over the same time from £6,100 to £109,800.

Classed as part of the council’s on-street parking figures, permit fines have helped this element of the service turn a £166,112 loss in 2014 into a £127,163 profit by the end of the last financial year.

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for environment and transport, Coun Amy Wilson, said CPM schemes have been introduced in parts of the city following requests from residents.

She added that they are “about addressing parking problems, improving road safety for all highway users, improving access and parking for the disabled, and giving residents some priority in parking their cars as close as possible to their homes”.

Permit parking restrictions are also planned for Northcote Avenue, in Hendon, Sunderland.

Coun Wilson continued: “Any surplus on the parking account allows us to reinvest, update, refurbish and modernise parking facilities, and contribute to the delivery of city transport schemes.

“In recent years, the council has been refreshing and updating its parking services and facilities.

“This has included updates to pay and display machines, pay on foot machines, more parking bays, more spaces in and around the city centre, schemes for residents, updated IT and all this has offered more choice and flexibility.

“Between 2010 and 2015, parking charges were frozen. The most recent increase was in 2018 and that was 10p per hour at some locations, not all. There was no increase in 2019.

“A survey in 2018 by private number plate provider National Numbers found that Sunderland is the cheapest place for motorists to park in the UK with drivers paying an average of 79p an hour.”

The council car-parking service, part of the authority’s highways section, made an overall profit of £2,803,311 between the financial years 2015-16 to 2018-19.

Reaching a peak within this period of £1,044,984 in 2017-18, figures for 208-19 show the surplus fell to £880,006.

PCN rates, meanwhile, are determined nationally and not by the city council.

They are currently split into two tariffs with £70 fines issued for contraventions such as parking on yellow lines and £50 penalties imposed for offences in car parks.

Changes in the way PCN data is stored mean it is not possible to fully analyse any upsurge in the number of overall parking fines in Sunderland over the last five years.

Partial figures over the 2014-2017 period, however, show an increase of more than fourfold from 140 fines to 590 fines.

Residents now have the opportunity to comment on the council’s latest permit zone plans.

They have until Friday, February 7, to make their views known on CPM schemes for the Ashbrooke and Hendon areas of the city.

The Ashbrooke restrictions would forbid people without permits from parking between 9am-10am and 2pm-3pm from Mondays-Saturdays in areas including Ashbrooke Road, Tunstall Vale, The Grove and West Lawn.

The Hendon CPM would prevent non-permit holders from parking within its zone between 9.30am-10.30am and 2.30pm-3.30pm from Mondays-Saturdays and covers Churchill Street, Laura Street, Meaburn Street, Northcote Avenue, Salisbury Street and Winfred Terrace.

Further details about both schemes can be inspected at the City Centre Customer Service Centre, in Fawcett Street, Sunderland, during normal opening hours.

Objections and other comments must be made in writing to E Waugh, Head of Law and Governance, PO Box 100, Civic Centre, Burdon Road, Sunderland, SR2 7DN.

Any objections must state the grounds for opposition.