Watch out...there’s a ‘spy car’ about!

A CRACKDOWN on parents parking illegally outside schools will see a new high-tech ‘spy car’ patrolling the streets from early next year.

Fears over children’s safety has led to the launch of a 12-month county-wide trial where a camera-mounted car will help issue fines to anyone caught parking on double yellow or zig zag lines.

However, opponents in other areas of Essex have criticised the move, branding it a “Big Brother-like” money-making exercise and an “invasion of privacy”.

Last week the North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) agreed to the initiative, which would see a private company providing a specially modified �70,000 car, fitted with cameras and automatic number plate recognition software, in return for half the value of any fines issued and paid.

Chairman of the NEPP Cllr Susan Barker hopes the scheme – which has the backing of headteachers and parents in Saffron Walden – will help to tackle dangerous parking outside schools.

“Traffic wardens can only get round to one school at a time and even then have to park some way away to give out tickets, so we hope the camera car will help us to monitor two or three schools in the morning and the same in the afternoon,” she explained.

“This is a trial scheme and we want to see if it can be effective in preventing people parking illegally and putting children’s lives at risk.”

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Mary Jo Hall, headteacher at St Thomas More Primary School on South Road, agreed. “I think it is a very good idea. We have been asking parents and visitors to the school not to park illegally but there is a group of people who will always take the chance,” she said.

“It is extremely dangerous for the children and we have had several who have been hit by drivers who are in a hurry and who pull out without looking because they know they are parked on double yellow lines. Fortunately nobody has been injured but the incidents have not stopped motorists continuing to ignore the warnings because there is no deterrent.”

Pictures taken by the camera car will be beamed back to the partnership’s Colchester office and tickets issued to offending motorists in the post.

Although many parents in Saffron Walden have supported the idea, it has not been universally welcomed by residents in other parts of the county – some of whom have labelled it a “spy car” which is nothing more than a “cash cow” for the NEPP.

But Cllr Barker hit back at the suggestions, stating that the car would be clearly marked and added the partnership was keen to go as far as to advertise the area of the county the car would be patrolling on a given morning.

• WHAT do you think about the new ‘spy car’ idea? Will it help improve children’s safety or is it just a cash cow for the NEPP? E-mail