Traffic wardens are driving shoppers away from Berwick town centre because they are handing out so many parking tickets.
That is the claim made by furious traders who say the over-zealous attitude of the wardens is causing further damage to the town centre’s struggling economy.
Almost 5,000 parking tickets were issued in Berwick during 2012/13 by enforcement officers employed by Northumberland County Council.
Businessman Graham Exley said: “The parking enforcement officers from the county council are, quite frankly, a disgrace and the number of visitors I’ve spoken to that tell me they won’t be coming back because of their behaviour is shocking.”
Simon Heald, who runs a stall in the Buttermarket, said Berwick was an ‘easy target’ for the wardens.
“It would be interesting to know what the county council’s enforcement policy is because you only have to see the figures to see they are quite clearly targeting Berwick over the likes of Ashington and Blyth,” he said.
Berwick resident Michael Stewart said: “Every trader will tell you that footfall is way down on what it was four years ago and yet the county council continue to charge us for parking and choose to employ these over-zealous parking wardens, or the traffic Taleban as I prefer to call them, so we are being hit by a double whammy.”
A Woolmarket resident added: “The wardens are ruthless in their enforcement of the rules. There is no lee-way at all. They just circle the car parks in the town looking for people to pick on. We are clearly seen as a source of revenue.”
The comments were made at a public meeting to discuss whether Berwick Town Council should take up the county council’s offer of free parking, a commitment made by the new Labour administration in its election manifesto.
There was unanimous support for the move but also recognition that traffic wardens would still have a role to play in making sure parking time limit restrictions are adhered to.
It is not clear yet how this would work if the town council decides to scrap parking charges from next April.
Julien Lake, chief executive of Berwick Community Trust, said: “We need common sense to be applied to enforcement and parking, particularly in residential areas.
“I would be very concerned if we moved towards free parking and then have to cover the wages of the enforcement officers.”
John Haswell, chairman of Berwick Chamber of Trade, called for car park time restrictions to be standardised to avoid the confusion that currently exists. However, Coun John Robertson felt it would be easier to retain the existing time limits.
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “Civil enforcement officers ensure that cars are parked correctly and legally. They make sure that vehicles do not exceed the maximum stay in time limited areas, that waiting and loading restrictions are adhered to and that the correct payment has been made for parking where it’s appropriate. Our leading stakeholders have told us that they fully support a good level of enforcement.”