The brutal temperatures brought by last month’s Beast from the East may have disrupted train journeys and destroyed miles of water mains – but it also had an impact on local councils’ back pockets.
The number of penalty charge notices (PCNs), or parking tickets, halved in the week Britain was battered by a bitter cold front brought from Russia earlier this year. Data collected from three-quarters of all councils across the country shows that, in the week beginning 26 February 79,920 PCNs were issued by local authorities, down from nearly 160,000 the week before.
The inclement conditions caused UK councils to pocket £4.9m less in parking fines than they did a week before. In the week beginning 19 February, £10m of PCNs were issued to motorists – a number that dropped to just £5.1m the week the storm arrived.
Obviously, the driving lobby were ecstatic. Brian Gregory, chairman of the Alliance of British Drivers, welcomed the decrease in fines due to the weather. “The general principle of parking enforcement was to deter dangerous or unsatisfactory parking, but now it seems to be used as a catch-all for revenue,” he said.”
“In conditions where roads are snowbound and people physically cannot move their vehicles, it’s a bit unreasonable to land them with parking tickets when it’s probably safer to leave the vehicle where it is.”.
Some local authorities’ traffic warden teams were decimated by the bad weather. Both Hastings and Forest of Dean councils issued no parking tickets the week of the Beast from the East, having given 49 fines a week previously. And tickets issued by inspectors at Rutland County Council dropped from 61 the week before the snow to just two.
But though parking wardens are often given stick, any celebrations should be muted. The halving of revenue from parking fines, coupled with the additional costs of having to organise extra gritting of roads, has had an outsized impact on councils.
Councillor Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: ”Any surplus raised from on-street parking fines is spent on improving parking and transport facilities, such as creating new parking spaces and tackling the £12bn roads repair backlog.”
He added: “Councils were well prepared for the recent bad weather with 1.5m tonnes of salt stockpiled at the beginning of winter and a fleet of state-of-the-art gritters out across the country day and night, finishing after midnight and starting in the small hours of the morning, treating thousands of miles of council roads.”
As snow fell, many councils sought to reassure drivers that they would take a common sense approach to issuing parking tickets to snowed-in vehicles.
Some councils seemed to take the chance to capitalise on the cold weather, however. Nineteen councils bucked the trend, issuing more parking fines the week that massive snowstorms forced many drivers to abandon their vehicles in treacherous conditions.
Despite being subject to strong criticism on social media for issuing fines to stranded motorists, Gwynedd council actually issued 38 per cent fewer parking tickets during the week of inclement weather than the seven days previously.
Luke Bodset, a spokesperson for the AA, said: “Although parking wardens needed to deter cars being left illegally where they could have made driving in winter conditions even more treacherous, many drivers say that the wardens time would have been better spent spreading grit on roads, particularly at junctions and roundabouts, and pavements.
“No doubt a number of drivers whose cars were ticketed during the bad weather had had to abandon their vehicles because of the snow. Coming back to find a ticket on the car would have added piled insult on misery for car owners who felt the local authorities left them to fend for themselves while the Beast from the East swept through.
“The AA would hope that councils are sympathetic towards appeals from drivers who were trapped by the winter conditions,” he concluded. “Sadly, the track record of many is that they won’t give those motorists the benefit of the doubt.”