Paying the price for latest vandalism of St Albans car park payment machines

Damaged car park machines at Westminster Lodge.

Damaged car park machines at Westminster Lodge. - Credit: Archant

Vandals are again costing taxpayers thousands of pounds in lost revenue after targeting car park payment machines at Westminster Lodge for the second time in two months.

Damaged car park machines at Westminster Lodge.

Damaged car park machines at Westminster Lodge. - Credit: Archant

A woman parking at Westminster Lodge to watch a performance at the Abbey Theatre was left unimpressed after noticing that several car park machines had been damaged in the latest attack.

She pointed out that apart from leaving St Albans district council with an expensive repair bill, such vandalism leaves a hole in the authority’s coffers through lost parking fees.

A council contractor discovered the damage on February 21 – but repairs were not completed until yesterday (Wednesday).

The Herts Advertiser understands that locks on three machines in the main car park at the leisure centre were tampered with, preventing cash collectors from emptying them.

At the end of last year seven such machines across the district, including at Westminster Lodge, were targeted by vandals.

A Herts Police spokeswoman said that on December 5, three locks were drilled into at the leisure centre’s public car park.

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When the site’s pay and display ticket machines had previously been vandalised in 2014, the council was left to foot the bill for new ones, as well as having to admit it had lost thousands of pounds in revenue, because of the length of time they were out of operation.

After the latest spate of vandalism, all four machines had to be switched off at Westminster. Although the only machine left undamaged is situated in the centre’s overflow car park, a council spokesman said it was considered too far away to direct visitors to it.

The total repair bill for the three damaged machines is £1,250.

While the council spokesman declined to say how much revenue was lost since February 21, this paper understands that it will run into thousands of pounds.

However, Maria Stagg, the council’s deputy head of regulatory services, said: “It is very disappointing that these machines have been vandalised, especially as there is a financial cost to the council through loss of revenue on top of the repair bill.

“The contractor’s engineer was on site [yesterday] carrying out repairs so the car park will return to normal very shortly.

“We will be discussing the security at the car park with the contractor to see if there any other measures we can put in place to deter further incidents of this sort.”

St Albans Civic Society member Eric Roberts said: “It’s unfortunate but it’s a fact of life that these sorts of criminal activities take place.

“But surely there must be a better way for the council to have a quicker response. It is part of the risks associated with such car parks – they can’t just be left paralysed, because then St Albans taxpayers suffer.

“If something is broken, they should act quickly.”

Eric said that while some visitors might appreciate weeks of free parking, he pointed out that the machines “are there for a reason, so we have to have a system that gets them back in action; that is the best way to beat vandals. It’s not the council’s fault they are being damaged, but they must fix them faster.”

An average of 1.2 million cars per year use the district’s public car parks, equating to about 23,000 vehicles a week.