SOUTH Tyneside Council made a profit of almost half a million pounds from parking fees and fines in the last year, it has emerged.
A new study from motoring organisation the RAC Foundation revealed our council made a £467,000 profit from parking fees and tickets in the 12 months to April this year.
Today a council spokesman denied parking charges were set with the aim of making a profit, and emphasised that in South Shields alone, there are more than 300 free parking spaces.
But a leading opposition councillor labelled the profits a “cash cow” to the council.
Coun Steve Harrison, a UKIP representative for the Fellgate and Hedworth ward, said: “What is needed is free parking.
“South Shields in particular is crying out for it.
“Just look at The Nook, which is thriving because free parking is available.
“Look at the River Drive down to the Little Haven Hotel, it’s double-parked on both sides – because it is free. The message is clear.
“I know we are in frugal times, but parking is a cash cow to the council – if it was not raising this £467,000, it would have to be found from somewhere else.”
The RAC arrived at the figure by adding up income from parking charges and penalty notices, then deducting running costs.
The money raised from parking charges ranks the borough – which is England’s smallest metropolitan authority – as the 206th highest earner out of 353 parking authorities nationwide.
Neighbouring Newcastle was ranked 20th with £6.2m profit; North Tyneside was 115th with £1.3m; Gateshead 328th with £328,000 and Sunderland 341st – with a loss of £306,000.
Despite the amount collected in the borough, the money raised was actually less than the profit for 2011/12, which was £618,000, but a rise on the 2010/11 figure of £415,000.
But with the price of parking constantly cited by traders as a deterrent to shoppers coming into South Shields town centre, the RAC report is bound to raise the parking debate again.
In a bid to draw more shoppers into South Shields town centre, the council last month launched a parking redemption scheme in the town centre, under which shoppers could have their parking fee redeemed by traders if they spent a certain amount of cash in-store.
A council spokesman said: “Parking charges in the borough are not set with the aim of making a profit, but are based on a range of factors, such as supporting the local economy, protecting the environment and reducing congestion.
“We believe the charges are reasonable and offer good value for money compared with other towns in the region.
“South Tyneside has the lowest parking fees in Tyne and Wear, with a penny-a-minute rate for the first hour in our car parks.
“The charging structure also supports the local economy by maximising turnover of short-term parking spaces, as well as aiding traffic management.
“We have over 300 free parking spaces in South Shields town centre, and provided additional free parking over the Christmas period.
“We also provide free parking in Hebburn, Jarrow, The Nook and Chichester, as well as edge-of-town-centre areas like Mill Dam and Ocean Road.
“The council has recently reduced parking charges in the eastern part of South Shields town centre, while the parking refund scheme offers shoppers the chance to get the cost of parking reimbursed by participating retailers.
“Parking revenue fluctuates year on year, and any surplus money is reinvested in related areas, like road safety and highways, as well as maintaining, improving and securing our car parks, 21 of which have Safer Parking Award status from the British Parking Association.”
The spokesman also said the parking refund scheme had been “welcomed by many retailers”, with discussions continuing with larger shops in a bid to sign them up to it.
The council ended its parking enforcement contract with Apcoa last year, after a number of tickets were wrongly issued and the company fined as a result.
That decision came amid claims from the public that officers were ‘ticket-happy’ and ‘over-zealous’.
The council subsequently took over the running of the service with Windmill, a trading subsidiary of regeneration charity Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle.
Apcoa staff were all transferred to the new regime, and underwent training to ensure a better relationship with the borough public.