IT has been revealed more than1,600 motorists were fined in car parks throughout the Hambleton district last year - amid fears charges are driving people out of the market towns.

The information has been unearthed by a group of concerned residents who have set up the Armchair Auditors to scrutinise council decisions and actions.

Through Freedom of Information requests they have also discovered the fines raised nearly £40,000 for Hambleton District Council. It is not yet known how much was raised through charges in the car parks which operate in Northallerton, Bedale, Thirsk, Easingwold and Stokesley.

The authority paid Scarborough Borough Council £52,266 to carry out the enforcement, which last year included a one-off charge of £6,065.

The news comes just two weeks before controversial new charges are due to be introduced in Northallerton High Street by North Yorkshire County Council.

Ian Watkins, from Bedale, spokesman for the Armchair Auditors, said they are planning to set up a website and Facebook page to encourage other people to scrutinise what is being done.

“I started because I was concerned over the lack of consultation over the gateway car park in Bedale and the amount of displacement parking because people did not want to pay for the car parks," he said.

“The aim is to carry out scrutiny of local councils. This is important, that the questions that should be asked are being asked.There is a lot of concern about car parks and enforcement.

"We asked why there was a 20 per cent increase in the charges this year and there was no answer. As I understand it Hambleton has £28 million in reserves and yet they are putting up parking charges ”

Hambleton District Council declined to comment, but independent councillor John Coulson said he believed the charges and enforcement was driving people out of Northallerton.

“People say I am being negative, but in Elder Road, where my business is, people just aren’t coming into the street, and the Crosby road car park is empty. Obviously the closure of the Defra office might affect it, but they had their own big car park,” he said.

“It is a concern and with the new parking charges on the high street being brought in in the next few weeks I don’t see that that is going to help. This is affecting the town and the market too, I don’t believe it is having the effect it was supposed to have. The idea was people would be able to come into town and find a parking space, but are they coming?" he added.