Monday, October 01, 2012

Motorists ‘ripped off’ as town bears brunt of fines

Motorists ‘ripped off’ as town bears brunt of fines
By BRIAN TILLEY
Published at 09:05, Monday, 24 September 2012
BOTH Tory and Labour administrations would scrap parking charges across Northumberland if they are returned to power in the county elections next May.
The pledges came in the wake of an interim report this week on the introduction of civil parking enforcement wardens across the county.
Figures presented to Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s economic prosperity scrutiny committee showed that the council had raked in more than £200,000 in parking fines since the wardens took up their posts in late April.
But the bulk of the cash has come from the market towns of Hexham, Berwick, Morpeth and Alnwick, while larger communities have largely escaped the wrath of the wardens.
While more than 1,600 tickets were issued in Hexham, 2,000 in Berwick and 1,500 in Morpeth, just nine were slapped on windscreens in the much larger town of Cramlington.
Fewer than 700 were issued in another large community, Ashington. The discrepancy has brought calls from both opposition parties to get rid of parking charges altogether.
Hexham was the subject of 6,095 visits from traffic wardens – more than anywhere else in the county – raising a total of £38,080 in parking fines from the town.
Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman said after the meeting: “I am not willing to see my constituents ripped off.
“We need a fair and level playing field across the county which right now we simply do not have.
“People in Hexham are quite rightly feeling targeted by the county council and that is very unfair.”
Hexham Town Council’s Coun. Colin Cessford added: “These figures prove that the new traffic wardens are targeting rural market towns for profit.
“The wardens are going where they think there is money to be made, which is why our town is being visited so frequently.
“Parking regulations are being used for revenue generation rather than as a means of managing traffic.
“The Lib Dems who run our county council need to explain why rural residents are being targeted in this way.”
Leader of Northumberland Conservatives Coun. Peter Jackson, of Heddon, said: “Hexham residents already pay hundreds of thousands in parking charges each year.
“The money taken in parking fines is a further tax on residents and further proof that our market towns are being used as cash cows by the council, which continues to provide free parking in Blyth and Ashington.
“A Conservative-run council would end this unfairness by abolishing parking charges in Hexham and across Northumberland.”
The council’s Labour group has also committed itself to getting rid of parking charges across the board.
Labour is proposing to devise local “car parking plans” with town and parish councils across the county with the short term aim of reducing and then eliminating car parking charges.
Group chairman Coun. Ian Swithenbank said: “It’s our view that Northumberland can afford free parking – it’s a question of priorities.
“It will bring in a fair amount of shoppers and tourists and it will complement the ‘Buy Northumberland’ campaign launched with the Prime Minister last week at the House of Commons.
“It’s the Labour group view that by involving town and parish councils we can enable localities to decide how they want to manage their own traffic.
“In the current economic environment we see car parking charges as a tax on motorists to park their vehicles on land they already own.”
Labour is confident that the revenue from car parking charges can be offset against drastically reduced costs of external consultants and interim managers, on which the Lib Dem administration spent £1.53m last year.
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