TRADERS are calling for action amid claims that they and shoppers are being "victimised" by traffic wardens in Leek.
It comes after one businessman was given a ticket at a car park in the town despite it being left there during a free period.
Traders are now urging Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to rein in overzealous wardens, who they say are severely damaging trade and keeping shoppers away.
The council has now apologised for the latest incident – with its leader saying wardens "should look at people more kindly".
Steve Lanza, who runs Mosaic gift shop with Jason Mycock in Sheepmarket, left his vehicle in a public car park at the top of St Edward Street.
He returned to find he had been issued with a £25 parking fine at 9.25am – when charges are only applicable between 9.30am and 3.30pm.
The penalty notice stated the warden had monitored the vehicle between 9.13am and 9.25am.
Mr Lanza said: "Parking wardens are damaging Leek.
"They watch people when traders and customers are loading and unloading items into their car, then slap a parking ticket on them. They also book you for parking a minute over time.
"I am furious and I want compensation. We are fed up of being victimised. Something has got to be done. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the ticket.
"People are frightened to look around shops, as they say they will have to move their cars well before the time is up, causing sales to be lost.
"We now have road works in the town and car parking wardens who will book anyone.
"This is a nightmare for shop owners in already difficult trading conditions.
"Leek traders cannot cope with any more loss of trade. The council must act to help traders."
Peter Cordon, who runs a sports shop in Sheepmarket, said: "A few weeks ago, I was unloading boxes from the boot of my car. It was raining, so I had to close the boot in between the times I went into my shop with a load of boxes.
"I was issued with a fine, but the warden would not talk to me, despite four witnesses being present."
Kevin Park, who owns Leek Cycle Solutions in the Smithfield Centre, was fined £25 three weeks ago for having a rear tyre two-and-a-half inches outside the white line on a parking bay.
He said this week: "The wardens are doing severe damage to Leek traders and shoppers.
"People are worried when they come into the shop, and keep looking at their watches.
"This is losing traders a lot of business. Times are difficult and we have six months of road works.
"We were told by the district council that they were to support traders during these works, but this is not happening."
Councillor Edwin Wain, cabinet member with responsibility for off-street parking at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, said: "A council officer has personally apologised to Mr Lanza and assured him that the ticket will be cancelled.
"This was a genuine error by a new civil enforcement officer (CEO) who had previously been working in an area where parking charges were in operation from 7.30am.
"We know that the majority of motorists are very appreciative that we provide free parking before 9.30am and after 3.30pm, and our CEOs are aware of local arrangements which should prevent a similar situation arising in the future.
"The council's CEOs operate to a Staffordshire-wide parking enforcement policy to ensure a fair and standardised approach.
"The policy is sensitive to the local area, the needs of its residents and visitors and, particularly, its impact on the local economy."
Council leader Sybil Ralphs, speaking at a meeting of the authority's ruling cabinet yesterday (Tuesday), said she had asked Councillor Wain to meet with enforcement chiefs. She said: "They should look at people more kindly rather than producing a ticket for someone being a minute late, as there are issues in the town at the moment."
Earlier this month, Leek resident Avril Kick said she had been put through "17 months of hell" after paying a £25 parking fine. Bailiffs appeared at her house to confiscate her car after the fine for non-payment spiralled from £25 to £390. It was eventually discovered that the money had been put into the wrong council account.