Motorists stung for using ‘wrong entrance’ to Norwich car park - but complaints spark U-turn
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
A Norfolk firm that charged motorists £100 for using the 'wrong entrance' to a city car park has performed a U-turn.
The two-hour free-stay car park at Earlham House shopping centre, off Earlham Road, is owned by a private company and managed by Norfolk Parking Enforcement Ltd (NPE).
It has two points of access - on Earlham Road and on Recreation Road - which have served as both entrance and exit for some 30 years.
But shortly before Christmas NPE installed a CCTV camera and began charging any motorist entering the car park from Recreation Road £100, discounted to £60 if paid within 14 days.
An NPE spokesman said 'no entry' signs had been in place for a year, and claimed strict enforcement began due to safety fears after near misses - with motorists ignoring the signs.
Residents rubbished claims the access was dangerous, adding the car park had been there for decades without issue, and criticised the move as money-making.
Now NPE has backed down, pledging to stop its strict enforcement policy but leaving the 'no entry' signs in place.
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The CCTV camera, beside the Co-op, will stay in place, with NPE to continue to observe and charge for other alleged breaches.
NPE had not commented on whether motorists who had already paid would be refunded at the time of going to press.
The car park is used by shoppers who visit the Co-op, the Post Office and independent shops including a butchers and a takeaway.
Ruth Porter, a Macmillan cancer nurse, has used the car park for more than 20 years.
'They've tried to introduce this one way system, but I just forgot on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in the Christmas holidays,' she said. 'I just popped in and got caught on camera, then within a week I had a letter.
'It looks like a police one demanding something, saying I've trespassed and some made-up story.
'I was quite stressed when I read it and can imagine a lot of people would be.'
Her husband Martin said: 'They operate rather like the wheel clamping crowd of old.
'They just use bullying tactics to get money out of you.'
Lee Guymer, of Winter Road, a string of charge notices after she failed to spot signage on trips to the Post Office, to visit the estate agent and to buy coffee.
She said: 'It just means those shops, a lot of which are small and independent, are losing business.
'It's ridiculous to suggest we're trespassing.'
An NPE spokesman said the firm was 'reluctant' to start charging, but responded to safety fears and consulted with the British Parking Association.
The spokesman said they had listened to feedback, including from shopkeepers, adding: 'We have decided to remove the warning signage and not issue any further charge notices to drivers entering the car park via the exit.
'We will leave the 'no entry' signs in place and can only hope and pray that a serious accident does not occur.'
Shopkeepers at Earlham House claim heavy-handed parking enforcement has hurt business.
Butcher Richard Bray allowed broadband equipment for the CCTV camera to be installed in his shop as he thought it was for a security camera.
'I've got the broadband in here now, but I had no clue they were trying to nick people for coming in the wrong way,' he said. 'Knowing what I know now, it's upsetting the apple cart.'
He added that he wanted to unplug it, but was locked in contract.
'It's not helping anyone that they're doing what they're doing, as one or two people I know have got done and not come back since,' he said.
Martin Baker, owner of the Earlham House Post Office, said he had no problem with cars entering the car park from Recreation Road.
'You can get two cars through there quite easily and it's old habits,' he said. 'Does it matter that much that it needs to be one way?
'It scares people off.'
Denise Carlo, Green Party city councillor for Nelson ward, welcomed news that motorists using the 'wrong entrance' would no longer be charged.
'It just underlines the fact they were trying it on,' she said. 'There defintely needs to be better government regulation.
'I think the claims of near misses are slightly exaggerated as that car park has been there for 30 years with no problems.'
Labour campaigners, including Clive Lewis, had also been rallying against the charges. Hugo Malik, the party's candidate for Nelson ward, added the issue had 'snowballed' before the U-turn.
Wheel clamping on private land became a criminal offence in 2012.
But beyond that, parking enforcement on private land is largely unregulated.
To find out a motorist's address to pursue a charge notice, an enforcement firm must be registered with trade body the British Parking Association (BPA), and is then able to request registered keeper information from the DVLA.
A DVLA spokesman said: 'We are currently investigating this case.'
People wishing to appeal a charge should first write to the issuer within 14 days.
For further advice, email AOS@britishparking.co.uk or see www.knowyourparkingrights.org
The full statement from NPE:
'The one way system and no entry floor markings have been in place for nearly 12 months.
'Unfortunately drivers have been ignoring this and repeatedly entered the car park through the exit.
'It was the general public alone that continuously contacted our company to complain that they had been involved in numerous 'near misses' as drivers ignored the one way system.
'Only last week a mother and two children escaped a serious collision when a speeding van decided to enter the car park via the exit.
'While we were extremely reluctant to implement the system, overwhelming pressure from car park users grew upon us to reduce the
possibility of accidents and injury within the car park, and following lengthy consultations with British Parking Association the
system was implemented.
'However, due to the feedback we have received, and listening to the shop owners at Earlham House we have decided to remove the warning signage and not issue any further charge notices to drivers entering the car park via the exit.
'We will leave the no entry signs in place and can only hope and pray that a serious accident does not occur.'