MOTORISTS AND shop-owners in the region are “suffering” because of sky-high parking fees, a Cabinet minister claimed yesterday.

Eric Pickles criticised local authorities that will enjoy huge increases in “profits” from charges and fines this year.

They include Durham County Council, which expects to grab an extra £496,000 from parking fees in 2013-14.

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The Labour-run authority predicts its surplus – after costs - will be £554,000 this year; up from just £58,000 in 2012-13.

Mr Pickles vowed to crack down on “unfair town hall parking rules”, saying: “The law is clear that parking is not a tax or cash cow for town hall officers.”

But Dave Wafer, Durham’s strategic traffic manager, hit back, insisting: “Parking charges have increased below the rate of inflation.

“Money from car parking is reinvested into the maintenance and improvement of car parks or transport-related projects.

“This includes subsidising the park and ride service and shopmobility to assist disabled shoppers in town centres, as well as investing in highway improvements.”

York (up £598,000), South Tyneside (up £252,000) and Newcastle (up £278,000) are also predicting soaring net income from charges and fines this year.

Darlington is among authorities expecting its surplus will fall in 2013-14 – but it is still on course to pocket £1.325m.

Across the region,  town halls extect to scoop £24.938m, an increases of £646,000.

The figures are the total income from all parking charges and fines, minus the cost of administering the service and of parking patrols.

Mr Pickles said: “This shows why we need to rein in unfair town hall parking rules.

“We scrapped rules which told councils to hike parking charges and adopt aggressive enforcement. But councils aren’t listening. Local shops and  families are suffering as a result.”

The attack follows Mr Pickles’ call to allow free parking on double yellow lines for up to 15 minutes, a change likely to be blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

The Local Government Secretary is believed to be drafting different policies to make it easier to park on the high street without fear of being given a ticket.

Town hall leaders have asked ministers to let them raise fines for parking offences above the current £70 limit.

Council budgets have also suffered an unprecedented squeeze, after Mr Pickles agreed to a 33 per cent cut in Government grants.

In 2011, the Coalition scrapped guidance allowing councils to set parking charges which encouraged motorists to use public transport.

It was hoped town halls would introduce cut-price rates to boost the High Street - but critics allege many went the other way.