The RAC Foundation found that revenues after expenses from car parking charges and fines has soared over the last five years.
Council across England are collectively making nearly £1billion from parking charges, with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] set to earn more than £3.5million from them next year.
In 2013/14, councils made £658million from parking fines and charges but this is set to increase to £913million this year, with some suggesting the final surplus could be more than £1billion.
The RAC say the numbers are calculated by taking all parking income, including pay and display charges, residents’ permits and penalties, and then subtracting the day-to-day running costs of providing parking.
TWBC is ranked 67th out of 343 English authorities for money made from parking charges with motorists paying more than £5,500,000 per annum to park in the council’s car parks.
Last year the borough made £3.9million, after running costs, from its parking, although takings having taken a dip since then, with next year’s revenue from the council’s car park estimated to be around 3.4million for 2019/20.
In neighbouring Tonbridge & Malling, the council makes just shy of £1.5million, which ranked it 133rd in the RAC figures.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said of the figures: “It would be no surprise at all if English councils soon breached the one billion-pound mark for the amount they make annually from parking, which is quite a windfall from a service that is intended to be all about managing traffic.
“Not every authority makes big money, some even run at loss, but where authorities are making money drivers might reasonably hope that some finds its way specifically into tackling road repairs not just on transport more generally.”
Rival motoring group, the AA, said councils are now dependent on the money made from parking to pay for local services following central government cuts, but it has a direct effect on retail.
Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the AA, warned: “It compounds the misery of the high street.
“Both of the Tory leadership contenders are saying they want to revive the high street – but good luck with that if councils are hell-bent on making as much money as they can from visitors driving into the town centre.”
Indeed, over the border in East Sussex, the county council is holding public consultation on parking charges, as it wants to double prices in places such as Lewes, Eastbourne and Hastings, but critics warn that this could be damaging for the high street.
“Hiking up parking charges may bring in extra revenue in the short-term but it will be a nail in the coffin of the High Street. It could go into cardiac arrest,” said Alex Schlagman, of campaign group SaveTheHighStreet.org.
For Tunbridge Wells, parking is among the highest income streams for the council and is used to pay for the services provided by the borough.
Parking in the town centre does remain competitive with other Kent towns. Two hours parking at Royal Victoria Place costs £2.80 at the pay & display machine compared to £2.30 at Tonbridge’s Angel car park, and £2.70 at Maidstone’s Fremlin Walk.
And town centre manager from Royal Tunbridge Wells Together, Karen Pengelly, believes the council are getting the balance just right.
She said: “Parking is a contentious issue in every town. There has to be a balance and there has to be restrictions, but obviously we want these restrictions to be as light as possible. We still have free on street parking in the town centre, which is rare these days.”
She added that RTW Together has run analysis on parking charges across the South East.
“We looked at like for like town centres, so similar towns to ours, and when you look at the figures, Tunbridge Wells did come out as very cost effective,” she concluded.