Council car parking revenue – cash cow? – in most cases no

A year ago I predicted local authority car parking revenues would decline given the economic downturn. The latest English local authority returns to central government show unusually that an economist has got his predictions correct. Total net revenues from on and off-street parking came to £326m in 2008/9 down from £366m in 2007/8. However, my prediction was not quite right as in fact gross revenues held up reasonably well, it was costs that increased bringing down the net contribution. Although some boroughs’ parking income has indeed fallen.

In aggregate, gross on-street parking revenues were £689m in 2008/9 down only slightly from £696m in 2007/8. Two thirds of the revenue was taken by councils in London and outside the capital on-street parking is not a significant source of revenue. So while London as a whole raises more than £170 per car registered in the capital from on street parking, this is ten times higher than any other region and 25 times higher than in the East Midlands.

When it comes to off-street parking aggregate gross revenues in 2008/9 were £649m, marginally up from £644m in 2007/8. Off-street parking is much less important in London than the south west and south east which raise more revenue per car than in London. The former regions earn £39 and £32 per car respectively while in London the figure is £30. With the exception of London all regions raise around double to four times as much money from off-street than on-street parking. With land values so high in London it makes more sense for London councils to release their land for other uses and make the most of their on-street space. Outside London there is an interesting point as to whether councils should consider moving in the same direction, that is, selling off off-street car parks for other uses and instead building up their on-street car parking business.

Taking all parking revenues together London is in a league of its own earning over £200 a car followed by the congested south east at £50 a car. It is perhaps surprising that the south west comes next in terms of revenue raised per car, again at nearly £50, while more urban areas such as the West Midlands and the North West come some way behind.

Of more interest to councils and their tax payers is the net revenues they receive. In net terms the top ten councils earned £118m from parking in 2008/9, accounting for nearly a third of total net revenues. As one would anticipate London councils dominate taking seven of the top ten spots, with five (Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham) earning more than £10m.

However, while for some councils parking helps to offset council tax bills for many it is a major drain on resources. In fact over 100 councils lost money on parking totalling between them £58m. To be fair to some of these councils losses were incurred due to capital expenditures and day to day operations were profitable. For others the council may not be seeking to make a profit but its raises the fundamental question that is ducked by many authorities and that is what are their objectives of being in the parking business.


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