Parking firm swerves fine over "criminal offence" of hospital signs

Parking Eye has been operating the car parks at Chorley and Preston hospitals since late year
Parking Eye has been operating the car parks at Chorley and Preston hospitals since late year

The company behind a new parking system at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital failed to get permission for signs which warn motorists about the penalties they face if they breach the firm’s rules – but has avoided a fine of its own.

Parking Eye was given retrospective approval for its car park technology at a meeting of Chorley Council’s development control committee – five months after it was put in place at the Euxton Lane site.

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The company had not sought planning consent before installing various components of the controversial scheme – including automatic number plate recognition cameras and payment kiosks – last December.

But neither did it have permission to put up information signs in the hospital’s car park – and to go ahead and do so was a "criminal offence", members were told by the authority's planning services manager, Adele Hayes. Under advertising regulations, it is not possible to be granted retrospective permission for signage.

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Jenny Hurley, a member of the Protect Chorley Hospital group, condemned Parking Eye’s actions as “bully-boy tactics”.

“It shows contempt for every elected member in this room, every resident of Chorley borough and every patient who has to visit that hospital,” she said.

Ms. Hurley called for the council to take enforcement action against the Buckshaw-based firm for the breach.

But Ms. Hayes, said such a decision was “discretionary”.

“If the signage does not harm amenity or safety, prosecution would not be in the public interest,” she said.

Several members criticised the way in which the application had been made – and claimed the chaos which the system unleashed when it was first introduced could have been averted.

“Had Parking Eye brought this forward in the normal way, I feel a lot of the teething troubles we have seen could have been lessened,” Cllr Alistair Morwood said.

He also questioned why parking charges at Chorley Hospital and the Royal Preston – both operated by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) – are more expensive than neighbouring hospital trusts.

The meeting heard that LTH had committed to ploughing any profit from its car park operation back into patient care. It is understood that Parking Eye receives income only from the fines which are generated for breaching car park rules.

Committee chair June Molyneaux said members would be “looking very carefully at the hospital’s accounts at the end of the year to see how much it gets, as has been promised”.

“We’re making a decision which I imagine none of us in this room want to take,” she added, as members approved all aspects of the car park scheme and declined to pursue enforcement action by a majority of seven to three.

A Parking Eye representative at the meeting confirmed that the company is currently lowering the height of its signage at Chorley Hospital over concerns about its visibility to disabled car park users.

After the meeting, a Parking Eye spokesperson said: “Whilst it is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure the appropriate permissions are in place, Parking Eye has worked closely with the Trust and the planning authority to ensure compliance.

“It is positive these have now been granted to enable effective car park management at those locations to ensure parking is available for genuine users and prevent abuse by those not entitled to park there.”

A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals pointed out that many of the signs in question had replaced notices which were already in situ as part of the previous scheme.

Last month, Preston Council granted Parking Eye retrospective permission for the same system which was also installed at the Royal Preston Hospital late last year.