Revenue-raising parking charges unlawful

Posted: 23rd July 2013

Residents Only ParkingParking campaigners have won a landmark High Court victory against increased charges which has implications for the rest of the country. A judge ruled that the London Borough of Barnet acted unlawfully when it increased the cost of residents' parking permits and visitor vouchers in controlled parking zones (CPZs) to raise revenue.

The additional income was intended to meet projected expenditure in respect of road maintenance and improvements, concessionary fares and other road transport costs. However, the Court declared that the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act was not a fiscal measure and did not authorise the Council to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes.

Quashing the Council’s decision to dramatically increase its parking charges with effect from April 2011, the judge rejected arguments put forward by its lawyers that it had powers under section 45 of the Act to raise a surplus from parking charges to help finance the exercise of its functions as highway authority.

The charges levied by the Council had leapt for a first car from £40 to £100 and visitors' vouchers from £1 to £4 - among the highest CPZ charges in London. After the ruling, the Council’s leader conceded that the increases had been carried out ‘too abruptly and rather charmlessly’ but said that the Council would appeal.

The Court ordered the Council to repay the parking charges unlawfully obtained from the resident who brought the case to court, plus his legal costs. The ruling opened the way for other residents, who had complained that parking in the borough was ‘more expensive than parking outside Harrods’, to also seek their money back.

The Court ruled: "It is a general principle of administrative law that a public body must exercise a statutory power for the purpose for which the power was conferred by Parliament, and not for any unauthorised purpose. An unauthorised purpose may be laudable in its own right, yet still unlawful." The Council had misinterpreted the law when it concluded that it was lawful ‘to budget for a surplus (of parking charges) at any level which it considered appropriate in order to generate income for other transport purposes which it wished to fund.’