A MONTH-LONG campaign to stop misuse of parking permit badges meant for disabled drivers is to be launched in Darlington.

Although widely known as orange badges, since April this year their colour has changed to conform with the European Blue Badge scheme.

The badges allow disabled drivers access to reserved parking places in the town, but Darlington Association on Disability (Dad) has voiced concern that badges are being misused by non-disabled drivers.

The association, Darlington Borough Council, Durham Constabulary and traffic wardens, will lead the campaign, during which badge users may be asked to verify their entitlement to use the badge.

The campaign will run from next Saturday until December 23, and will begin with a warning period.

Anyone found misusing a badge after that time will risk having the badge withdrawn or a fine of up to £1,000.

Gordon Pybus, vice-chairman of Darlington Association on Disability, said: "We've had a lot of complaints from disabled drivers and from people with disabled passengers, that non-disabled drivers are misusing the badges.

"If this is the case, and disabled people are letting other people use their badges, it causes parking problems for disabled drivers."

Councillor Nick Wallace, Darlington Borough Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, warned people misusing the badges they would be dealt with severely.

He said: "The campaign is very much about raising awareness. Those who misuse the badges must understand the problems they cause for disabled people.

"Take, for example, someone who has a badge because their grandmother is disabled, but they are in the car on their own, and drive into the town. Some think that because they have got the badge they can use it to park in one of the disabled spaces.

"But they have to understand that is not what the scheme is for. It is there for people who have difficulty walking. And if people are using the spaces when they don't need to, then they are taking up a space that could be used by a genuinely disabled driver or passenger.

"They must also understand that if they are caught misusing the badges, the penalties are severe."

Badge users can help police, traffic wardens and council car park wardens, throughout the campaign by showing full details of their badge, including photograph, when requested