SHOPPERS caught out by a car park camera which was put up without planning permission are questioning whether they should have to pay.
Motorists caught overstaying at Aldi in Chapel Allerton are questioning whether the £70 penalties handed out so far should be quashed in light of the revelation that the camera was installed without the backing of council planners.
But the supermarket chain, which is now seeking consent retrospectively, insists the fines still stand - a position backed by an ombudsman.
The controversy centres around an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera in the car park of the store in Harrogate Road, which opened earlier this year.
Signs say there is a maximum stay of an hour and a half and any motorists caught outstaying their welcome risk a £70 fine.
One customer stung by a charge is Jane Klugerman.
She was sent a bill for staying too long in a parking bay after helping with the shop of her friend Karen Williams, who has to carry out activities slowly because of disabilities.
By chance, her husband had seen the retrospective planning application to Leeds City Council.
Mrs Klugerman, of Shadwell Lane in Alwoodley, said: “I visit the store quite regularly and have done since they started opening.
“On November 26 I seemingly outstayed my welcome by 10 or 15 minutes.
“On December 4, I received a demand for a parking charge from their ANPR machine.
“By coincidence, on the same evening my husband, who reads the Yorkshire Evening Post, was reading the planning permissions and there it was - it was saying that this for ANPR machine they haven’t got permission.”
The fine sent to Mrs Klugerman was issued by a private company called ParkingEye.
Initially £70, it reduces to £40 if paid within a certain time frame, she said.
Mrs Klugerman added: “First of all, I’m absolutely amazed that they would deter genuine visitors from the store who are spending money, especially at this time of year.
“I’m more aggrieved that they have been using this [camera] since the store opened, and haven’t had permission.
“It seems they rely on people being suitably scared to pay the money quickly.”
Mrs Klugerman, who sells women’s accessories at trade shows, has refused to pay and has submitted a formal complaint to Aldi.
The supermarket chain insists the charges still stand.
An Aldi spokesperson said: “On this occasion, we have been asked by the local authority to apply for planning permission regarding equipment on our site retrospectively.
“This in no way affects the enforceability of any charges issued prior to or after the application being made.”
And the ombudsman service, Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA), which oversees appeals against charges issued by ParkingEye and other members of the British Parking Association trade body, has poured cold water on motorists' chances.
A spokesman said: "When considering an appeal we look at whether a parking contract was formed and whether the motorist kept to that contract.
"If the evidence (normally ANPR camera evidence) shows that the motorist was on site without keeping to the parking conditions, it is likely that we would determine that the parking charge was valid and refuse the appeal. The courts take the same approach when considering the validity of parking charges.
“If ANPR cameras are installed without planning permission, this would be an issue for the local council.
“The absence of planning permission would not affect the motorist’s ability to understand and keep to the parking conditions. The motorist would still have entered into a parking contract.
"Therefore, this would not affect our decision on whether the parking charge was valid.”
Lawyer Nick Freeman is the owner of Manchester-based legal practice Freeman & Co. and is best known as a celebrity defence lawyer, specialising in traffic and speeding offences.
His reputation for finding technicalities has earned him the name 'Mr Loophole'.
He said: "From a planning perspective, providing the signage is clear and the motorist isn’t in anyway being misled then he or she, in my opinion is bound by the terms of the contract.
"The planning issue does not relate to this therefore the tickets are, in my view, enforceable."