South Ribble’s Council is one of only a handful of authorities nationwide not making a profit from parking, as it is forks out more money to manage car parks than it gains from charges.
Both Chorley and Preston have made a profit in the last few years; in 2013/14 Chorley was up £444,000 from people paying to park, and Preston pocketed £790,000.
But South Ribble reported negative numbers, being left to pay out £34,000 last year. The previous year, it was down £59,000.
The opposition Labour party has criticised the Tories’ ‘off-the-cuff’ parking policy, claiming that offering free parking and not policing the car parks properly is the root of the problem.
Labour deputy leader Coun Paul Foster said: “It’s just a mess. There is confusion about where people can park for free.
“They have the blue bays in some car parks where you can park for an hour for free, but I think people just park without paying in all areas of the car parks.
“One of the major problems in South Ribble is that there are very few parking attendants, so it’s very badly policed.
“I think the council is losing an awful lot of revenue because of that.
“There are significant financial challenges ahead, and the council still thinks it’s a priority to subsidise parking. I can’t understand that.”
He added: “The fact that Chorley made half a million last year shows that charging for parking doesn’t prevent people from visiting the town – people are prepared to pay.”
But the Conservatives say they have no intention of upping charges and accept they lose money from offering ‘cheap’ and free parking.
Coun Peter Mullineaux, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for neighbourhoods and street scene, said: “Our priority is to encourage people to shop locally, not make a profit out of motorists.
“We support our local businesses and town centres by offering shoppers free parking for an hour in a number of blue bays across our car parks, and charge as little as 50p to stay for two hours.
“We believe this gives people an extra incentive to shop in South Ribble rather than travelling to bigger towns and cities nearby where parking charges are higher.
“We also offer free parking over Christmas every year, which results in a loss of income, but is hugely popular with shoppers and helps drive a thriving seasonal economy into our town centres.
“As with council tax, we haven’t increased parking charges in a number of years, despite facing rising operational costs.
“The prices for Penalty Charge Notices are set nationally so that is out of our control.”
A report from the RAC Foundation shows that for the most part, English councils made another record surplus from their parking activities in 2013/14, with a 12 per cent increase on the previous year’s amount.
It says: “Very few councils lose money on their parking activities.
“Just 55 (16 per cent) of the 353 parking authorities in England reported negative numbers.”
Costs which are not covered by income in South Ribble are charged to the council’s main budget.