Shocked cinema goers have been ordered to pay £100 – after a new three-hour parking restriction was brought in at the Festival Leisure Park.
The car park, off Rigby Road in central Blackpool and used for the Odeon, Swift Hound pub, Frankie and Benny’s Italian-American restaurant, Bannatyne gym, and McDonald's, is now home to cameras that watch when customers come and go.
Those who stay longer than three hours now face being charged £100 – or £60 if they pay within 14 days – despite the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras going up without planning permission.
Two stung film fans vowed to stay away, while the move is also understood to have come as a surprise to the businesses, one of which said it had to negotiate extra time for its customers.
But one senior councillor questioned the legality of the charges – with planning enforcement officers set to launch an investigation into a camera mounted on a lamp post, which they say requires permission to install.
Pensioner Margaret Cartmell, 81, of Maycroft Avenue, Carleton, was charged after watching a silver screening before having lunch with a friend at the Swift Hound.
She said: “This might stop us going to the Odeon. We go to the Vue [cinema in Cleveleys] sometimes – it’s nearer to me. I will not go all that way if I can’t go for a meal as well.”
The retired telephonist said she didn’t spot signs alerting motorists to the new rules, and said she wasn’t told by cinema staff she could enter her details on an iPad to get an extra two hours.
She saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which is two hours and 13 minutes long and preceded by around 20 minutes of adverts and trailers, and queued for tickets and coffee. The meal took around a further two hours, she said.
Debbie Nicholson, 43, of Thursfield Avenue, Marton, was also charged after seeing a film and eating out – and said she wasn’t made aware of the new rules by cinema staff either – nor did she spot the signs.
She said: “I won’t be going anymore. If you want to watch a film and have something to eat, you will not do it because you won’t have time. The first sign is by the roundabout and pedestrian crossing – so you are not looking for signs.”
An Odeon spokesman said: “While our guests become familiar with these guidelines, our team is notifying guests and making them aware of the three-hour free parking limit, offering a further two-hour extension to their stay, which they can arrange in-cinema.”
A spokesman for Bannatyne said: “The new parking system was recently installed by the site landlords with little notice. After negotiation, we have installed a registration tablet to give members additional parking time.”
And a Frankie and Benny’s spokesman said: “We have been in touch with the company that manages the car park to make them aware of issues a small number our customers have experienced so they can address it as soon as possible, and resolve instances where people may have been given parking penalties in error.”
Opposition leader at the council, Coun Tony Williams, inset, said: “I understand some people have already received fines even though they have had pre-authorisation from the restaurants.
“Firstly, I don’t believe the company has planning permission for the cameras they have installed, and, secondly, they are not issuing ‘fines’ – they are private parking charges issued by aggressive private parking companies who then bully those who they state have over stayed their welcome by threatening them with court action.
“I would think that, if there is no planning approval, then the parking charges are null and void. I doubt if the parking company would have any success in court at all. The site management should be supporting their tenants. A three-hour curfew is not helping at all.”
A sign at the leisure park’s entrance said it is run by Vine Property Management, while the new parking signs say Anchor Security Services, which trades as Care Parking, enforces the restrictions. Neither company responded to The Gazette’s questions.
Blackpool Council said it was due to launch an investigation.
A spokeswoman added: “The council has not received a planning application in relation to cameras being installed at this car park.”
“Now that we’ve been made aware, our planning enforcement team will register a case and an investigation will commence.
“Planning permission is required for cameras mounted on free-standing poles.”
Following publication of The Gazette’s story, Care Parking sent an email, in which it denied needing planning permission – and said businesses were informed of the changes on October 4.
“It should be noted the cameras were installed on an existing CCTV camera-mounting pole that was installed at the time of the development,” it said.
“In order for a camera to require planning permission their quantity, size, location, appearance or method of fixing the camera/s were considered to cause a significant alternation to the external appearance of the property.
“As no pole for mounting was installed there was no significant alteration. Further, the mounting of a single camera does not require express planning permission, under the terms of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order.
“With reference to the signage, the landowner has planning permission to operate the land as a car park. Our signage is displayed within the car park and serves no other purpose than to inform motorists of the terms and conditions in place.”
The company also claimed Coun Williams’ comments equalled “misinformation” and were “potentially detrimental to motorists”.
It said: “We have seen a minority of motorists make contact with us stating they will ignore the charges as a result of your article and this causes substantial concern.
“The charges remain enforceable and these motorists have now been placed at risk of further charges as a result of this article and the councillor’s comments.”
It added: “Kiosks have been installed in multiple units to enable extensions of varying length based on the nature of use by each tenant’s customers.
“Customers visiting multiple establishments are catered for within the scheme.
“The reason the system has been installed is due to the substantial misuse of the car park by non-patrons of the leisure development.
“During a pre-mobilisation study, it was repeatedly noted the car park reached capacity, particularly during Blackpool FC match days.
“This was leading to substantial complaints from genuine customers of the establishment.
“Whilst some individuals may not appreciate the requirement for an overstay system to be installed, we have already seen a substantial reduction in car park misuse, and there is now parking available for genuine customers of the development.”