WESTMORLAND Gazette Newspapers is clamping down on illegal car parkers amid fears for safety and after months of headaches for delivery drivers and staff whose cars have been damaged.

Over the last few months, more and more shoppers and commuters have been treating the Gazette's private car park as a chance to park for free.

But the risks being posed by cars packing onto the land behind the Stricklandgate office have forced newspaper sales manager David Coates to get in the clamps.

''We do not want to upset anyone, but we have got no option but to take action,'' said Mr Coates. ''Our own vehicles are struggling to get in, and delivery vehicles are having problems.''

Delivery lorries need a wide swing into the car park to negotiate the entrance - but illegal parkers blocking up the grass verge have made the manoeuvre practically impossible.

Before Christmas, a lorry became stuck at the car park gates - resulting in hundreds of pounds worth of damage to the wall and the trailer itself.

Staff - who often struggle to find a space themselves when arriving for work - have come back to their cars to find them blocked in and even with hundreds of pounds worth of damage, Mr Coates added.

Another fear is that drivers using the car park as a short cut to avoid the traffic lights at the corner of Stramongate could cause an accident.

''People are travelling through so quickly that we are afraid that someone will be hurt,'' he said.

He said: ''Reporters need continual access if a big story breaks - and there have been occasions when reporters' vehicles have been blocked in and they cannot get out.

''We have no option but to begin to clamp vehicles. The main concern is that it is so chaotic out there with people struggling to park that someone is going to get hurt.''

Tickets for £25 will be put on unauthorised cars. Clamping release fees will be higher still, Mr Coates said.

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