MORPETH is being disproportionately targeted for parking fines, it has been claimed.
The town has been dubbed a ‘cash cow’ for Northumberland County Council after new figures were released showing the number of parking fines issued in individual areas since a new enforcement regime was introduced in April.
In Morpeth 1,579 tickets were issued and £34,410 was paid up in just five months, with enforcement officers making 4,886 visits to the town.
However, in nearby Cramlington, which has more than double the population of Morpeth, just nine fines have been issued, generating £175, and only 59 visits were made by officers.
And there appears to be a divide in action taken between rural market towns in the north and west of the county and the urban south east.
In Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham a total of 6,123 penalty notices have been handed out during 20,434 warden visits, generating £138,776.Meanwhile, in Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Cramlington there were 1,829 fines issued in 6,123 visits, generating £45,290.
Chairman of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade Car Parking Sub-Committee Charles Robinson said: “These figures are of concern and we will have to have dialogue with the council to establish whether this is a revenue generating exercise or about proper enforcement because at the moment the figures seem to indicate that the fines are a profitable revenue stream.
“Members of the public have said that they think the regulations are being applied in an over-zealous manner.
“I think there is a balance that needs to be made and we are seeking discussions with the council as to how that balance can be achieved.
“We do recognise the need for proper policing of parking, particularly on streets in our market towns to ensure the through flow of traffic and prevent congestion, but we have had instances where it would appear that common sense in applying the rules hasn’t been used.
“The distribution and the timings of wardens in the town also needs to be looked at.”
Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson hit out at the fines issued in Morpeth.
“Morpeth residents already pay hundreds of thousands in parking charges every year. The money taken in parking fines is a further tax on residents and further proof that our market towns are being used as a cash cow by the council, which continues to provide free parking in Blyth and Ashington,” he said.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the county’s Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday.
And even Cramlington councillor Wayne Daley said it appeared that the rural market towns were being targeted.
“What I’m seeing here is a dash for cash,” he said.
Parking Services Manager Lynne Ryan said that the difference in figures is due to more regulations in some areas than others, for example Berwick has more than seven percent of the county total of yellow lines, while Cramlington has very few restrictions.
Executive Member Simon Reed said: “We haven’t set out to catch people out, it’s just consistent application of the rules. The level of hostility that some members of the public have had towards our enforcement officers is clearly unacceptable.”
The meeting heard that abuse of officers by the public has been much worse than expected, with extreme uses of bad language and personal insult experienced regularly, and even death threats being made.
The council is considering supplying body cameras to protect staff and provide evidence in disputed cases, and it is looking to set up a radio communications system, but may need planning permission for masts.
Members were told that 26 council traffic officers have been employed in the county since Civil Parking Enforcement came into operation in April. However, parking restrictions have not changed.
Enforcement aims to reduce obstructive parking and congestion, manage on and off-street parking, improve road safety, improve conditions for public transport and increase accessibility for local servicing needs.