ON and off-road parking charges and motoring fines have generated a surplus for West Devon Borough Council of £354,000, according to latest tables published by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The figures for 2011/12, which show surplus profit before capital charges, are part of statistics showing that English councils had a total current account surplus of £565-million from such street parking operations — £54-million increase on the surplus seen in 2010-11.

The figures came following a request to the DCLG by motoring body the RAC under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a survey of 359 English councils, West Devon was positioned 232nd of authorities in surplus, while Cornwall Council, with a surplus of £7,926,000 for 2011/12, was the eighth highest in the country, only topped by councils in London and Brighton. Devon had a surplus of £594,000 and was 'ranked' 189th.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles last week announced he was considering plans to allow drivers to park on double yellow lines for 15 minutes if they were just popping into a shop.

Mr Pickles argued the £635-million municipal parking profit shows why 'unfair' town hall parking rules needed to be reviewed.

Mr Pickles suggested shoppers were being put off visiting town centres because of 'over-zealous enforcement' of parking rules and warned councils against using motorists as a 'cash cow' to compensate for falling income in other areas.

Mr Pickles said this showed town halls were 'not listening' to concerns about the impact of parking policies on shops and families.

Nigel Eadie, the chair of Tavistock and District Chamber of Trade, said the chamber and the Business Improvement District (BID) were working with the borough council to solve parking concerns in the town.

He said: 'People have to expect to pay to park their car but the chamber and other organisations in Tavistock are working closely with car parking strategy groups to try and make it easier to find parking space in the town for locals and visitors alike and to try and find ways of preventing high charges.

'We are working with West Devon so that more visitors are attracted to the amazing and eclectic shops we have here in Tavistock.'

Ideas being considered are barrier systems to car parks so visitors would not have to worry about whether they have gone over their 'time limit' and risk an expensive fine.

Mr Eadie said one example was an initiative by BID, now in operation, to encourage and make it easier for shoppers to the town. Free parking is available through August and September at the car parks in Brook Street, Russell Street and Bank Square after 3pm from Monday to Wednesday.

Ian Bailey, chairman of Okehampton and District Chamber of Commerce, said members would certainly welcome it if West Devon could use any surplus to reduce car parking charges in the town.

Mr Bailey said: 'The chamber is always looking at different ways to encourage people to come and shop in Okehampton. Ideas are being put forward such as shopping vouchers and cash back for car parkers but nothing has yet been solidified.

'I would love it if West Devon Borough Council reduced the car parking fees, as it would make it more attractive for visitors to come to Okehampton. I'm sure it could be done with a little bit of lateral thinking.'

A spokesman for West Devon Borough Council said: 'The surplus money from car parks in West Devon is ploughed back in to the general activities of the council and ensures that any council tax increases are kept to a minimum.

'The council has a car parking strategy group made up of representatives from town and parish councils, supermarkets, and the chambers of commerce in all areas where we have pay and display car parks. The group's role is to ensure that parking charges are set appropriately.'