ANGRY drivers have racked up over 200 complaints about ‘astronomical’ penalties and ‘underhand’ tactics used by the operators at a Weymouth car park.

The Old Town East and West car park, also known as the Richard Strode car park, behind Brewers Quay, uses CCTV to record number plates as they enter and exit and drivers must enter their registration number into a machine to get a ticket.

Those who go over their paid for time limit are sent a minimum £60 penalty charge in the post – but often not until some weeks later. Some have claimed they are being fined even if they have not overstayed. The car park is privately owned and the computerised charging system is run by Parking Eye.

Transport chiefs at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council have criticised the system and urged drivers to get advice before paying up.

Parking Eye says its equipment is accurate and the drivers are at fault. But there are fears the controversy could give Weymouth a bad name and put people off coming to the town.

The council has received more than 200 complaints between April and August – averaging around 10 a week – and has contacted Parking Eye on drivers’ behalf.

Drivers claim they are being landed with fines despite leaving within their time limit and many have thrown away their tickets to prove otherwise by the time they receive a demand.

Others feel they are being bullied into paying up by letters threatening increased penalties or legal action.

Coun Christine James, member for transport and infrastructure, said the council has tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with the company.

She said: “It’s been going on since about April. We have tried to speak to them and they have offered to put up more signs but I can’t see what difference that will make. The charges if you go over are astronomical. They are claiming they will give a 10-minute grace period but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

“The way they are behaving is appalling and it’s giving Weymouth a bad name. I can’t see why they want to do it – it’s not going to encourage people to use the car park. Some of the people with fines are not sure what they have got it for and people are not getting a response when they are writing to them.”

Coun James said when she tried to call Parking Eye’s telephone number displayed on the signs, a recorded message said the number was ‘unavailable’ and later said it was ‘discontinued’. Coun James said although the council does not own the car park, it is not something it can ignore.

“We genuinely feel for people,” she said.

“The council has to take an interest – we can’t say it’s nothing to do with us. If you get a fine, search on the internet to find out what this company is like and don’t pay the fine until you get some advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or your local MP.”