ANEW parking enforcement regime in Northumberland was yesterday branded a “dash for cash” – and criticised for penalising drivers in rural market towns.
The controversy erupted as statistics revealed major discrepancies in the treatment of different towns since the county council took over responsibility for enforcing parking restrictions earlier this year.
Yesterday there were claims that council parking wardens are being used to generate income rather than manage traffic, by concentrating their efforts on towns where there is money to be made from fines because motorists are charged to park there.
It was alleged that nowhere near the same enforcement resources are being devoted to communities in south east Northumberland, where parking is free.
Cramlington Conservative councillor Wayne Daley said the figures showed that over a five-month period, wardens spent more than 2,000 hours enforcing restrictions in Berwick – but only 22 hours in Cramlington, a much bigger town.
He said: “We have been told about having a fair enforcement structure across the county, yet what I see in this report is not a fair and equitable service, but a dash for cash.
“We know the service has to be self-financing, and enforcement is being done on the basis of cost recovery. We have big parking problems in Cramlington and to only get 22 hours of enforcement does concern me. I am being asked by people in Cramlington where the civilian enforcement officers are.
“The traffic wardens have a crucial role to play in our communities, such as keeping roads clear outside local schools, but instead they are simply chasing money. We could be making much better use of the wardens if only they were not so focused on fleecing motorists.”
Tory group leader Coun Peter Jackson said: “The money taken in parking fines is a further tax on residents, and further proof that our rural market towns are being used as a cash cow by the council, which continues to provide free parking in Blyth and Ashington.”
An interim report on civil parking enforcement to yesterday’s economic prosperity and strategic services scrutiny committee said more than 2,000 penalty tickets have been issued in Berwick, 1,614 in Hexham and 1,579 in Morpeth, raising total income of £111,000. This compares to just nine tickets in Cramlington, 107 in Bedlington, 686 in Ashington and 1,027 in Blyth, bringing in just over £45,000 in total.
Parking services manager Lynne Ryan said wardens were being deployed on the basis of what restrictions were in place to enforce. She said Cramlington had very few parking regulations in comparison to a town like Berwick.