Last month’s winter storms deprived cost councils nearly £5m in parking fines

No parking ticket! Woo! Image: Getty.

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.”

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.