Norfolk police could pull the plug on traffic wardens

Norfolk could be set for a parking free-for-all after police chiefs said they are set to pull the plug on traffic wardens - with County Hall not be ready to take over parking enforcement for six months.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the EDP has discovered that the number of traffic wardens employed by Norfolk police has fallen from 35 to eight over the last five years. They are responsible for enforcement across the county except Norwich where City Hall is in charge.

The force has been preparing to hand power to Norfolk County Council under civil parking enforcement legislation.

This should have happened in 2008, but there have been a number of delays, including confusion over the future of local authorities as various options for unitary councils were considered.

Until now, the police have filled the gap under an agreement which sees the council footing the bill. During that time there have been accusations that thousands of motorists have flouted the law unpunished as the number of tickets issued fell by more than 50pc.

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Stephen Bett, chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, now says it is unlikely the force will continue to employ traffic wardens beyond the end of the current financial year.

Meanwhile, County Hall is due to consider how it will continue to operate parking enforcement. However, the Department for Transport does not plan to grant permission for the council to take charge until October.

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Mr Bett told the EDP: 'We face difficult financial decisions and cannot continue to operate in the way we have in the past.

'It is a matter of priorities and traffic wardens will come pretty low on the list if it is a choice, for example, between that and employing police community support officers.

'In previous years, we have made agreements to continue enforcement until County Hall is ready to take control. But I can't see that continuing any longer.'

In Norwich, City Hall runs it own parking enforcement. Elsewhere in the county, councils are responsible for controlling car parks, but police are responsible for breaches of street parking regulations.

Under the new plans, County Hall would take overall control but delegate responsibility to councils in Great Yarmouth Borough, King's Lynn and West Norfolk and South Norfolk.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for travel and transport, said that Norfolk police had not formally discussed the possibility of ending parking enforcement in April with the council.

He added: 'We are all going through tough financial times and tough decisions will have to be made.

'In the past we have always been able to negotiate a solution and I hope we can do the same this time. But as things stand, we simply won't have permission from the government to take over in April.'

In 2005, traffic wardens handed out 8,400 parking tickets. By 2008 this had fallen to 4,157. No figures were available for the number issued by traffic wardens last year. A total of 15,000 tickets were issued by Norfolk police but the majority of these were given out by police officers.

It is hoped that, under council control, parking enforcement will become self-financing. Papers due to be considered by the cabinet at County Hall on January 4 say that income will cover the cost of the scheme.

The report also suggests that the current number of traffic wardens is unlikely to increase. It adds: 'It is considered that the presence of identifiable uniformed personnel patrolling the streets during daytime, and in some locations up to the early hours of the morning, can arguably do much to increase the public's perception of safety and lead to a reduction in anti-social behaviour and opportunist crime.

'Whilst the overall level of on-street parking enforcement resource will not change significantly from that currently provided by the traffic wardens, its visibility should be increased particularly where the same enforcement staff undertake both on and off street enforcement duties in an area.'

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