NO police traffic wardens have been operating in Northumberland for six months, the Herald has learned.
Both residents and traders are furious that parking restrictions in residential areas and main streets are not being enforced, while people are being penalised if they even slightly overstay their ticket times in car parks.
The problem has surfaced as Northumberland County Council is responsible for monitoring car parks and employs staff to enforce charges and other regulations, while police have the powers to deal with on-street parking.
Previously, Northumbria Police employed traffic wardens to carry out enforcement across Northumberland, regarding issues such as restricted parking areas and obstructive parking.
But now it has been confirmed that the force has not employed wardens in the county for the past six months, with ordinary officers expected to pick up the work.
The county council is planning to take over civil parking enforcement duties in the future, but it will require approval from the Government. It is unlikely to come into force until early next year.
In the meantime, there are complaints that people are getting no benefit from buying residents’ parking permits.
Morpeth B&B owner Steven Lum currently buys four permits, at a cost of £15 each per year, for his own use and for guests at his Castle View business in Dacre Street.
He said: “I buy these permits, but at certain times of the week or the day you just can’t park your car and our guests have to use the pay and display car park.
“On Fridays and Saturdays in particular people will just come and leave their cars all over the place and completely ignore the fact that they aren’t supposed to park there. We can’t park our cars anywhere near our own home sometimes.
“Our neighbour left a note on someone’s car once telling them they can’t park in the street and they got a threatening letter through the door. It gets really silly sometimes when you point out to people that they are not supposed to park here. Some are apologetic, but others are abusive and just don’t care.
“We pay for these permits, but we get no benefit whatsoever from them. The council just tells me there is nothing it can do, it is up to the police to enforce it, but often when the police come they tell me there is nothing they can do.
“There is a lot of confusion about who is responsible.”
He added: “It really does annoy us that there is a car park across the road, but to avoid paying the charges people will park in the street and leave their car here for hours.”
Businesses in the town are also dismayed.
Charles Robinson, who chairs the Chamber of Trade’s Car Parking Sub-Committee, said: “I wasn’t aware, but I can quite believe there are no traffic wardens because of what I have seen.
“Just the other day there was a car parked where the pedestrian crossing is in Newgate Street. I thought it was someone dropping something off at the charity shop, but the car had just been parked there. It is unbelievable what goes on.
“We as a group are very concerned about the lack of traffic enforcement. The town is log-jammed with illegal parking. This causes annoyance to a lot of people, but it is also dangerous.
“The last time we brought this up we were told there were four traffic wardens for the whole of Northumberland, which was bad enough, but we were totally unaware that Northumberland now has no traffic wardens.
“It is something we should have been consulted on and we want to know what other systems are being put in place.”
Morpeth town councillor David Parker was also unaware of the lack of wardens.
“That is absolutely appalling,” he said.
“It is quite crazy having parking controls anywhere if people don’t uphold them and there is no enforcement.
“There is no doubt about it, there are times when people park their cars anywhere in the town and it causes congestion. On one occasion beside the leisure centre I couldn’t get along the road because of cars parked on both sides.
“The county council is going to take over civil parking enforcement, which is something that the former Castle Morpeth Council looked at and I encouraged that. It is absolutely necessary.
“I’m glad the council is keen to pick this up, but it is to be deprecated that the police have no traffic wardens now because it could be six months at least before the council takes it on.
“I will be encouraging the town council to lobby the police about this because it is not satisfactory at all.”
A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “Police are currently responsible for on-street parking enforcement in Morpeth as there are no longer traffic wardens — this has been the case for the past six months.
“In the future, deregulation of parking enforcement in Northumberland is being considered by the county council, allowing the local authority to be responsible for on and off-street parking enforcement.
“Police would retain the powers to enforce obstructive parking.”
A county council spokeswoman said: “In relation to civil parking enforcement, this is included in the overall parking strategy for Northumberland.”