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Source : 21/05/2002 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

A Topps-free zone where motorists can seek sanctuary from Northampton's ever vigilant traffic wardens has been confirmed as a parking free-for-all.

After almost a year of speculation, Northampton Borough Council - which expects to have handed out 75,000 parking tickets by the end of 2002 - has admitted that a popular grass verge in the town centre is exempt from its 30 on-the-spot penalty.

Despite the council's admission that it owns the patch of land, next to the former Cannon Cinema, it cannot enforce its controversial parking powers there.

The Chron first queried the apparent toll-free parking spot last summer, when the Jesus Fellowship, which now owns the old cinema and the access roads leading to it, denied responsibility for the verge.

When our reporter contacted the Guildhall, inquiries regarding ownership drew a blank there too.

But now the borough council has said it cannot fine drivers for pulling up on the land, which is used by dozens of cars every week, because it is not a public highway.

John Campbell, from the Jesus Fellowship, said: 'We have been talking to the borough council about this and we know that the land is nothing to do with us.'

'We have our own road for parking and let's just say it's not entirely our workers who park on the verge.'

'The council seems to be embarrassed about the whole issue.'

A spokeswoman for the council said: 'We are exploring the possibilities of how parking on the grass verge at the old Cannon Cinema access road can be prevented.'

'Northampton Borough Council owns the grass verge and as such it is considered private land.'

'Parking tickets can only be issued on public highways and not on private land, such as this grass verge. Vehicles that park on the grass verge churn up grass and cause a danger to safety, as drivers reverse back onto the main ring road.'

Cars driving up and down the kerb to reach the strip of land have also caused cracks on the pavement.

Mr Campbell said his group, which is in the middle of converting the cinema into a state-of-the-art worship centre, is considering putting up bollards to prevent motorists using its access road.