A GROUP of drivers who regularly ignore parking rules owe cash-strapped Highland Council more than £30,000 in unpaid fines.
The worst offender, who has received 42 tickets, has yet to settle a £3360 bill.
The next two on the list of shame owe £2175 and £2149 after being fined 26 times each.
The car park at the council’s headquarters in Glenurquhart Road is the region’s hotspot for fines according to a report of "persistent offenders" published by the council which took over responsibility for ticketing in late 2016.
Persistent offenders are those with five or more outstanding penalty charge notices and the list shows 37 such individuals who, between them, owed £30,171 as of the end of last month.
An imminent clampdown is now being planned by the council, with offenders’ vehicles set to be towed away and only returned upon payment of a fine from this summer.
A member of the local authority’s roads team said: "These will be ‘priority offenders’ once we put in place the infrastructure to uplift vehicles, in the coming months."
However these priority offenders are only a few among hundreds of drivers who flout the regulations, with fines totalling £450,000 issued across the Highlands since 2016.
Last November was the busiest month for fines, with 1030 penalty notices issued across the region amounting to £38,700, if and when they are all paid.
The vast majority of fines are issued in Inverness and in December 403 were handed out in the city. A total of 72 were handed to people who parked at council headquarters, 62 were dished out in Church Street and 29 in Union Street.
Constituents in Councillor Isabelle MacKenzie’s Millburn ward have also highlighted a problem in the Crown area of Inverness where they claim drivers regularly desert vehicles and seem to ignore parking tickets slapped on their windscreens.
She said: "With parking so restricted in the area, residents in the hill district are rightly exasperated.
"It’s the bare-faced cheek of people not paying when others can’t get parked.
"Another irritation is that it’s costing the public purse at a time of budget restraint."
The council is finalising the necessary infrastructure to seize vehicles, liaising with contractors already doing the job elsewhere.
Money raised from penalty charges funds the service itself and it is understood that 15 months on from the council taking over parking control, it is on schedule to be "cost neutral".
Any surplus income must be reinvested in traffic-related projects.
The police remain responsible for enforcing reportable offences such as dangerous parking or obstruction and unpaid penalty charge notices are passed to sheriff officers to pursue.
Last summer senior councillor Allan Henderson admitted taking responsibility for parking enforcement had been a "massive burden" on the local authority.