Is this Bri­tain’s most ridicu­lous park­ing fine?

Un­happy meal Shop­pers are fu­ri­ous at £60 charges af­ter leav­ing their cars out­side a Star­bucks but pop­ping next door to a McDon­ald’s in the same re­tail park. Miles Brig­nall re­ports

The Guardian - - MONEY -

When Kate Read­man and her hus­band de­cided to visit the McDon­ald’s restau­rant near Stansted air­port’s mid­stay car park, they were quick to check the park­ing re­stric­tions.

The pair, who had just got off a flight, had found the first avail­able space at the South­gate re­tail park near the next-door Star­bucks and, af­ter see­ing a sign that told them they had one free hour, they made the 30-sec­ond walk to buy their McDon­ald’s meal.

Thirty min­utes later they were back in the car and thought no more about it, un­til a month later, when they were shocked to re­ceive a £60 de­mand by the firm that man­ages the site, MET Park­ing Ser­vices.

A link to MET’s web­site re­vealed the park­ing com­pany had recorded their ev­ery move on CCTV once they had got out of the car.

The Read­mans are by no means alone. The Con­sumer Ac­tion Group, Le­gal Bea­gles and MoneySav­ingEx­pert web­sites have all fea­tured a host of posts from other South­gate cus­tomers sent £60 de­mands for the same rea­son.

Some posters have been con­cerned about the com­pany’s use of CCTV. Oth­ers claim it is noth­ing more than an un­der­hand way to ex­tract £60 from those who de­cide to pay up rather than fight it.

The car park in ques­tion has just one exit and en­trance, and driv­ers say it is only rea­son­able to as­sume it is all the same car park. Mo­torists park in sim­i­lar re­tail units across the coun­try ev­ery day and make their way to var­i­ous shops.

But that hasn’t stopped MET di­vid­ing the 80 spa­ces into two units – a move that con­fuses many driv­ers. Some signs around the car park tell cus­tomers they have one hour’s free park­ing, but do not spec­ify any par­tic­u­lar restau­rant, just say­ing they must stay “on the site”. Oth­ers say a par­tic­u­lar area is re­served for McDon­ald’s or Star­bucks cus­tomers only.

“We left the car and walked the 30 me­tres or so to the McDon­ald’s which is next door to the Star­bucks, ate and drove off af­ter around 30 min­utes – well in­side the al­lot­ted free hour,” says Kate.

“I gen­uinely could not be­lieve it when I got the let­ter. But when I went on­line I found plenty of posts from oth­ers who had re­ceived sim­i­lar let­ters. If this model were car­ried for­ward to other re­tail parks you would have to park di­rectly in front of the shop you wished to visit and then move your car each time you wanted to go to an­other shop. It’s ut­terly ridicu­lous,” she says.

One rea­son that con­sumers are get­ting th­ese de­mands is that the two restau­rants are about 4 me­tres apart, housed in what will be seen by

many driv­ers as one over­all car park.

MET’s lawyers have vig­or­ously de­fended the pol­icy and said the re­spec­tive car parks are “clearly dis­tinct and sep­a­rately sign­posted”. But Kate says that when she spoke to staff at both McDon­ald’s and Star­bucks, they told her they thought the sig­nage was un­clear. She was told that there was noth­ing they could do about it.

Money asked Nick McAleenan, a part­ner at JMW So­lic­i­tors, which rep­re­sents MET, what would hap­pen if a cus­tomer en­tered one restau­rant on the site and then de­cided to eat in the other, would they be ex­pected to move their car? No ex­pla­na­tion was of­fered.

A state­ment on be­half of MET said: “The re­spec­tive car parks are clearly dis­tinct and sep­a­rately sign­posted. There is noth­ing un­usual about dif­fer­ent busi­nesses hav­ing their own car park or re­serv­ing free park­ing for their own cus­tomers. Should a motorist not be sat­is­fied with the out­come of our ap­peals process they have the op­por­tu­nity to ap­peal to the in­de­pen­dent ap­peals ser­vice, POPLA, which is a free ser­vice,” he says.

Nei­ther McDon­ald’s or Star­bucks re­sponded to the Guardian’s re­quest for com­ment.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MAR­TIN GOD­WIN/THE GUARDIAN

▲ Some cus­tomers were con­fused by the signs in the Stansted re­tail park

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