A £30,000 ‘spy car’ is being used by Oxford City Council to catch motorists who fail to pay their parking fees.
The council bought a Citroen Berlingo last March and has kitted it out with cameras that scan motorists’ number plates in its car parks to alert wardens if a fee has not been paid.
The existence of the car only emerged last week following a report by privacy campaigner Big Brother Watch over councils’ use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking and traffic infractions and today the Oxford Mail can reveal what it is being used for.
However, city council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said there were no figures on how many fines its deployment had led to. Fines are issued manually by wardens after they have been alerted that a driver has not paid for their parking.
The council said it was proving to be a valuable addition for its parking system but Liberal Democrat leader Jean Fooks was uncomfortable with its use.
Mrs Fooks said: “I think people should pay for parking fines, obviously, but it does make me feel uncomfortable.
“The county council has cameras on High Street but at least people know they are there, people don’t know it (the ANPR vehicle) exists.
“The city council has spent public money on this and I’m sure people would like to know if it is cost-effective and how many people it has caught.
“Figures should be made available.”
Big Brother Watch has dubbed such vehicles as ‘spy cars’, but Ms Dean defended its use. She also rejected criticism that fines were simply an additional form of cash for the council.
She said: “Parking enforcement is not about quotas or income generated from penalties, it is about improving safety and traffic flow.
“We also need to manage supply and demand for car parking spaces in an extremely busy city.
“We are pleased with the ANPR vehicle as it speeds up the process for enforcement officers to check if cars are parked illegally.”
Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said: “The fact the council doesn’t record proper statistics about the penalties being issued only begs the question if they are trying to hide the facts from the public.”
During the 2012-13 financial year – prior to the Berlingo’s use – Oxford City Council made a surplus on its parking charges of £4.56m, a rise on the previous 12 months.
Last week’s report by Big Brother Watch revealed the county council’s cameras enforcing restrictions on the city’s bus gates had caught 94,217 motorists between April 2008 and March 31 last year. It had received £3.3m in fines.