Councils in England collected a record £1.4bn ($2.1bn) from parking tickets and permits last year, leading to accusations they were treating motorists as cash cows. Profits reported by local authorities for 2014-15 were up for the fifth year in a row, reaching an "eye-watering" £693m.
A report by the motoring charity the RAC Foundation found that 84% of councils made a profit from their parking in 2014. The five local authorities reporting the highest surpluses were all in London, with Westminster topping the table at £46.4m. Brighton and Hove reported the highest figure outside of London, at £18.6m, while Nottingham City was also in the top 10 at £13.3m.
The figures, published on 7 December, showed an almost £30m increase from the previous year's surplus, leading to suggestions from the RAC that cash-strapped councils were using parking revenue to prop up dwindling budgets. Legally, revenue from parking charges should only be used for transport or environment projects.
Top 10 councils with largest parking surpluses (source: RAC Foundation, 2014-15)
Kensington & Chelsea £33.0m
Hammersmith & Fulham £23.8m
Brighton & Hove £18.6m
Nottingham City £13.3m
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "The financial sums involved in local authority parking are huge and the overall profits eye-watering. And once again the year-on-year direction of travel is upwards.
"The legal position is that parking charges are to be used as a tool for managing traffic. But with local government budgets under ever-greater pressure, the temptation to see them as a fund-raiser must be intense.
"The precarious financial state of many councils is a genuine concern, not least when it comes to the risk of a cut in road maintenance spending which will hit every one of us. A funding solution requires national and local government to look beyond the High Street parking meter."
The Local Government Association (LGA) criticised the report as misleading, however, claiming that councils were on the side of hard-pressed motorists. A spokesman for the LGA said: "This is a wholly inaccurate and misleading report, which peddles the myth that councils make a profit from parking.
"The reality is, income is spent on running parking services and any surplus is only spent on essential transport projects, such as tackling the £12bn roads repair backlog and creating new parking spaces. Councils are on the side of hard-pressed motorists. The average motorist is paying 30 times more to Whitehall in charges and taxation each year than they do to their town hall through parking."
But Gooding said local authorities should tell drivers where the excess money from parking went. "When a parking profit is made the law states that, essentially, the money can only be spent on transport and environment projects," he said. "We are simply asking that all councils publish annual reports to tell drivers exactly where this huge excess ends up."