EXCLUSIVE Don’t force elderly to use parking apps: Gove pleads with councils to keep meters

EXCLUSIVE Don’t force elderly to use smartphone parking apps: Michael Gove writes to every council to warn than against scrapping parking meters

Councils must not discriminate against older people by forcing drivers to use smartphones to pay for parking spaces, Michael Gove has warned.

In a letter to every local authority in England, the Levelling Up Secretary said he was concerned about the elderly and vulnerable being excluded if traditional pay-and-display machines were scrapped.

His intervention comes after the Mail revealed that more than two million motorists will soon live in ‘parking meter deserts’.

Machines are increasingly being scrapped in favour of cashless options such as mobile phone apps.

But Mr Gove said town halls have a responsibility to ensure that they ‘do not discriminate in their decision-making against older people or those with vulnerabilities’.

Michael Gove speaks during a statement on the ‘called-in planning decision’ following the approval of a new coal mine, in the House of Commons in London on December 8, 2022

In a letter to council chiefs, seen by the Mail, the Cabinet minister wrote: ‘Cash remains legal tender and it will continue to be used in our daily lives by people who favour its accessibility and ease.

‘I am therefore concerned that local authorities should ensure that there are alternative provisions for parking payments available so that no part of society is digitally excluded.

‘This is of course important for many areas in preserving the accessibility of our high streets and town centres for all the public.’

He said it would not be appropriate for high street parking to be ‘solely available for those who have access to a mobile phone’.

Councils should also not replace paper-based parking options such as ‘scratch cards’ if the only available replacement is an entirely digital option, Mr Gove said.

A poll commissioned by the Mail and published this week found more than half of over-65s do not feel like using parking apps such as RingGo and PayByPhone.

Four in ten respondents of all ages said they would be put off going to town centres that lacked parking meters.

Pay-and-display council machines are already a thing of the past in parts of London, including Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Barking and Dagenham, a Mail audit found.

And by the end of next month meters will have vanished from Enfield, Bromley as well as Brighton and Hove.

Harrow is moving to a ‘cashlite’ system and has now switched off most of its machines. Slough is looking to scrap some this year.

Elsewhere, half a dozen councils confirmed their meter numbers had been reduced – with further cuts to come in Ealing. The west London council had 196 machines in 2016 but by the end of this year it will be just 60.

Charities including AgeUK warned that the end of pay-and-display parking would be ‘disastrous for anyone without a smartphone’.

And the British Independent Retailers Association warned of the impact on the high street, calling car parking apps a ‘barrier to many car drivers’.

Parking meters are vanishing from British streets as operators favour smartphone applications

Parking meters are vanishing from British streets as operators favour smartphone applications

Mr Gove said the Government recognised that digital payments for parking can provide a more ‘convenient, efficient, and secure way for the public to pay and can help local authorities reduce costs and raise standards’.

He also acknowledged some local authorities have reported concerning levels of attempted fraud in relation to payment machines.

But he said: ‘All local authorities, however, have existing statutory duties to ensure that they do not discriminate in their decision making against older people or those with vulnerabilities.’

A Government source said: ‘Councils have a duty to their residents, particularly elderly or vulnerable motorists, to make sure they are not cutting them off from local businesses on our valuable high streets.’