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