Council chiefs have defended figures which show they are the second worst performing authority in the country for parking.
Figures from the RAC Foundation show that Northumberland County Council made a loss of £667,000 in 2014/15, placing it 352nd in the country – with just Surrey County Council behind them in the table.
The figures showed a dramatic turn for the authority as it made profit in each of the last four years – more than £1m in 2013/14 with a ‘best’ of £1.8m in 2011/12.
However, senior officials at Northumberland say the turn in fortune is due to the introduction of free parking in council owned car parks across the county, which they say is more beneficial to residents and businesses.
Coun Ian Swithenbank, cabinet member for local services at Northumberland County Council, said: “The reason for the change in revenue is our decision to implement free parking across council-owned car parks and on-street parking places in April 2014.
“We asked local town and parish councils to decide what was best for their own locality and they established their own parking initiatives after consultation with the local community.
“The introduction has been very successful and beneficial to residents, visitors and businesses where it has been introduced with increased footfall in these places.”
The figures from the RAC Foundation had been calculated by taking income from parking charges and penalty notices, then deducting running costs.
Only 57 councils out of the 353 were found to be making a loss on parking, with the top five councils all being London-based – Westminster topping the list at £44m ‘profit’.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The financial sums involved in local authority parking are huge and the overall profits eye-watering.
“And once again the year-on-year direction of travel is upwards.
“The legal position is that parking charges are to be used as a tool for managing traffic.
“But with local government budgets under ever-greater pressure the temptation to see them as a fund-raiser must be intense.
“The precarious financial state of many councils is a genuine concern, not least when it comes to the risk of a cut in road maintenance spending which will hit every one of us.”