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Parking tax under fire

Date: 24 August 2009

Nottingham is going ahead with its office parking tax, but the arguments aren't retreating. Paul Barker reports

Nottingham City Council's proposed Workplace Parking Levy has come under renewed attack from a whole host of objectors.

The scheme's Government approval was met with accusations the consultation process was flawed, claims the scheme is open to abuse, threats of a legal challenge and noises about firms moving car parks out of the city, which could cripple the scheme's plans to raise money for improved public transport.

The city is to charge businesses with more than 10 spaces for employees over £250 per space from April 2012, rising to £350 by 2014.

Government permission for Nottingham to proceed was granted despite Whitehall's own Transport Select Committee describing the consultation process as "deeply flawed". Of the 3500 businesses in Nottingham, the council's figures suggest only the 500 largest would be affected as they have more than 10 staff parking spaces, and only 100 of those responded to the consultation, of which 83 were against it. The TSC report said: "The burden of such schemes inevitably falls on a minority of employers, which means the response to consultation cannot be determined on the basis of a simple majority of respondents." It called for better Government guidelines regarding the assessment of consultation contributions, though Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for transport and area working at Nottingham City Council, said she felt the TSC had come to that conclusion as it had relied on oral rather than written submissions and "didn't have all the evidence".

Meanwhile, the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce is threatening legal action to try and prevent the WPL. The recession-induced delay to 2012 instead of the original 2010 introduction means there will now be a general election before the scheme begins, and George Cowcher, chief executive of the DNCC is hopeful of overturning the decision to launch the scheme. "We are determining where the other political parties stand and doing what we can to ensure Nottingham does not, through procurement methods, put in place what can't be unscrambled," he told BusinessCar. Cowcher also refused to rule out a further legal challenge to the scheme's introduction.

He claimed "tax avoidance will become the name of the game, with companies seeing what they can do to move car parks", including parking staff outside the city boundary and shuttling them to the office.

One of those companies, pharmacy brand Alliance Boots, is looking at the potential for moving its parking spaces to avoid a £500,000 annual bill.

"We find it outrageous the City Council has been given the go-ahead to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy following the influential Transport Select Committee's report that said the evidence given to them by the City Council suggested the consultation with businesses was deeply flawed," said Boots' public policy director Peter Gibson. "We will be seeking to challenge this decision and we are calling for a public inquiry."

Gibson said the firm is in the "fortunate position of being able to look at best use of open space on our site". Boot's land straddles the city boundary, and it would be able to move the 4500 parking spaces outside Nottingham City Council territory. Nottingham council has declared itself "disappointed" with Boots' stance.

The Forum of Private Business has slammed the WPL as a "stealth tax", and claims businesses will only be charged on the number of spaces they choose to declare to authorities.

The scheme's purpose is to raise money to help improve public transport, including a new tram system and a £67m redevelopment of Nottingham railway station, but DNCC's Cowcher is warning that the city "is still not certain" how much it will even raise if businesses find ways to avoid paying the levy.

Meanwhile, Exeter council is reported to be looking to follow Nottingham's lead.