MOTORISTS are being left baffled by parking meters which only allow them to pay overnight fees after 4pm.

To park between 6pm and 8am in Durham County Council-run car parks at The Sands and Freeman’s Place, in Durham city centre, costs £1.40.

However, the meters only print tickets allowing parking until 8am if they are bought after 4pm.

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Tickets bought before 4pm carry an expiry time of no later than 6pm, even if enough money has been paid to park overnight.

This has led to confusion among motorists, with some believing they must return at 6pm to buy a new ticket – or risk a £70 fine.

Elvet councillor David Stoker said: “We are confusing people unnecessarily. People are wandering around trying to find a traffic warden. We need to simplify the situation.”

Dave Lewin, traffic section manager at Durham County Council, said it was aware of some issues with paying for evening parking, these were caused by the meters’ programming and the council was working with the manufacturer to try to address this.

But he added: “It is possible for our enforcement officers to tell how much money has been paid when looking at a ticket so they will not be issuing penalty charge notices to motorists whose ticket displays the incorrect expiry time if they have paid the correct amount.”

Coun Stoker also called on Durham County Council to follow Newcastle City Council’s lead in offering free evening parking.

Newcastle’s Alive After Five initiative is said to have increased footfall in the city and boosted businesses.

However, Durham recently increased evening parking charges. At Freeman’s Place, the cost rose from £1.20 to £1.40.

Coun Stoker said: “Not only are we not matching Newcastle, we’re disadvantaging ourselves against them.”

Mr Lewin said the 20p increase was part of the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan and the first in Durham City since 2004.

The charges are in line with privately-owned city centre car parks, the income helps cover running costs, maintenance and parking enforcement and there is still free on-street parking available in the area, he added.

He also confirmed the council had no plans to remove or reduce evening parking charges.