Workplace Licensing Schemes: More problems finding parking?

United Kingdom
The Transport Bill, published in November 1999, will create the workplace parking levy - a charge for employee car park spaces. The inclusion of the power in the Bill came as no great surprise as the policy has been widely touted since the present Government came to power.

The Government’s aim is to reduce congestion and give local authorities the means to fund alternatives to the car. Provided a local authority has made a local transport plan which has been approved by the Secretary of State, a licensing scheme can be introduced that will enable it to hypothecate the net proceeds of the scheme to local transport. The net proceeds are derived by subtracting the expenses of establishing and operating the scheme from the gross proceeds.

However, there could be a number of practical difficulties, and it remains to be seen whether the new powers are sufficient to persuade us to leave the car at home and take the bus to work.

Spending the money

In its present pre-committee form, the Transport Bill contains no power or duty for the Secretary of State to compel a local planning authority to use the net proceeds to tackle the objectives of a local transport plan. The planning authority could, for example, obtain the funds by imposing a licensing scheme on retail development in the town centre, but then choose to sit on that money for up to 10 years. Once local authorities obtain the money, they are free within that period to choose when to enter into, for example, a contract with a bus company to provide particular routes. Whether or not Government intends this, a local planning authority may find that it is able to charge for car parking spaces well before it chooses to provide support for better public transport.

It remains to be seen whether developers and owner/occupiers can find a way to tie into any licence agreements a requirement that the funds they are paying are spent within a period of time, to provide the necessary public transport services.

The publication of the Government’s consultation paper “Breaking the Log Jam” in December of 1998 highlighted a number of dangers for owner/occupiers and developers.

Experimentation

There is likely to be a period of experimentation before licensing schemes become familiar to everyone in the development process. There are no set timescales for the introduction of powers.

Breaking the Log Jam explained that whilst it was necessary to introduce primary legislation to enable local authorities to introduce a levy for workplace parking, most of the detail that should give people comfort in what is expected will not be available until pilot schemes have been assessed.

For example, some local authorities may choose to be more energetic than others when enforcing the terms of licensing schemes against owner/occupiers. The Transport Bill allows for a right of entry to the premises where the licence is in place to check that workplace parking is appropriately covered by a licence. However, this is a watered down version of the power proposed in the consultation paper which suggested that agents of the local authorities should be ‘allowed immediate and unannounced access to developments in order to examine if the terms of the licence are being adhered to’.

Competition

In addition to any experimentation that will take place, there is enormous potential for inconsistency between local authorities.

First, the notes that accompany the Transport Bill explain that it is for local authorities to decide whether or not to bring forward a workplace licensing scheme. They appear to be under no statutory duty to ensure these are in place. It is arguable that a local authority seeking to encourage employment-related activity will either relax PPG13 (draft) parking standards to allow a larger number of licence units or, simply decide not to introduce a scheme in the first place.

Secondly, local authorities who are competing for new businesses to locate in their area may be unwilling to impose maximum parking standards and licence schemes if other neighbouring authorities are not doing the same. Some local authorities may seek to apply licensing schemes to some development (office space) but not to others (retail and leisure).

And finally, exemptions and terms of schemes may differ widely between local authorities. The Transport Bill sets out the basic elements (see table 1) that a licensing scheme must contain, but the Bill still allows local authorities to vary charges in accordance with different days or times of the day, different parts of the licensing area, different classes of motor vehicles or different numbers of licensed units.

Developers and owner/occupiers should take great note of an important procedural point. When they apply to local authorities for a licence to park up to a maximum number of vehicles and then pay the appropriate sum based on a charge per unit, local authorities will be obliged to issue the licence for the number of units that are requested. Local authorities are not able to use this mechanism as a means to directly control the number of parking place provided.

Displacement

Our love of the car is so strong, that many of us will continue to drive until physically prevented, either by congestion or because there is nowhere to park at the end of the journey. Employees who are not allocated a licence unit, or arrive too late in the day to take up a space, will try to leave their car on an adjacent residential street (which may or may not be subject to a residents’ parking zone) or to a lesser extent, public car parks. This can be controlled by local authorities, but added expense and organisational problems will be incurred by them. Many people will pay a relatively large amount of money so they are able to continue to use their car. Public car parks adjacent to large developments will probably attract the displacement from the licensed car parks.

When the streets and public car parks are full, displacement on to private land could become a problem. Displacement of vehicles to the car parks at retail and leisure outlets, for example would be the responsibility of the owner/occupier of that land. This forces the owner/occupier to take on the burden of tackling unauthorised parking.

Who pays?

The workplace licensing scheme that the local authority imposes will allow an owner/occupier a maximum number of licence units for employees. How does an employer decide who should have a space? In the event that an employee who honestly believes he or she should get a space does not, who is the employer to say that an employee should not be able to drive to work, but park elsewhere? Who pays for each space - the employer or the employee?

There may be no option for a particular employee to use the car because of diverse trip requirements, and any money that is obtained from owner/occupiers for the improvement of public transport may not be spent for some years. The required improvements for public transport may not come about for some time; meanwhile the employee is left to fend for himself. ?

Conclusions

The principle underlying the introduction of workplace licensing schemes recognises a certain aspect of human nature: we like to drive, and many of us would love to drive to work and many will continue to do so until the roads are closed, or we know that it is pointless driving to work as there will be nowhere to park (or we are physically prevented from getting into the car and starting the engine!).

The licensing scheme recognises the need for a strong, thick, heavy “stick” but there is a danger that schemes will become a “tax” on parking that does not reduce congestion or promote a shift in the mode of travel.

Will the scheme actually achieve a change in attitude in Britain in the use of the car for travelling to work? At the moment, broadly speaking, the more senior you are the less you should have to worry about personal transport - one example being the Ministerial car. It will be interesting to see if places in licensing schemes are allocated on a need or a perk basis.

Table 1

Key elements of a Workplace Licensing Scheme

1. A local transport plan with objectives, approved by the Secretary of State towards which the net income can be paid.
2. A type of development/building which has parking for employees, and is not exempt from licence schemes by virtue of inclusion on the exemption list drawn up by the Secretary of State.
3. A licence granted to the owner/occupier of premises by a local authority, for a specific number of “licence units”.
4. Terms and conditions specifying the levy system which may differ according to times of the day, and lists of which vehicle types will not count towards a licence total.
5. Rights of entry for allowing an Inspector access to check on the use of the licence area.
6. List of civil penalty charges to be paid of licence terms are broken.
7. Independent Adjudication process for handling disputes.

Written by Tony Kitson and Alistair Watson of our Planning Group for Estates Gazette.

Tony can be contacted at abk@cms-cmck.com and Alistair at asw@cms-cmck.com or on (+44) (0)20 7367 3000