SPY cars raked in almost half a million pounds for Southend Council in their first two years of operation.

The two Toyota iQs, armed with rotating CCTV cameras, issued 15,256 tickets between July 2011 and last March, generating £485,950 for the authority and provoking a backlash among drivers.

The spy cars are understood to cost about £220,000 a year to run, and the council says it has to spend £1.6million more on managing parking than it generates in charges and fines.

However, Martin Terry, spokesman for Southend Council’s Independent group of councillors, said the cars were being used to unfairly target motorists. He said: “There is clear evidence that, although the council has denied it, spy cars stalk customers of businesses.

“I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes. The spy car has stealthily hidden itself, then come out when people park.”

Mr Terry wants more details from the council about where revenue from spy cars is used.

He added: “I agree with the use of spy cars to deter dangerous parking, such as outside schools – that’s why I supported their introduction.

“But I don’t agree with them used to penalise people going about their lawful business.”

Spy car revenue fell from £279,732 between July 2011 and March 2012, to £206,208 between April 2012 and March 2013, as tickets issued dropped from 8,890 to 6,366.

It prompted the council to claim the controversial scheme was improving parking.

The authority, which released the figures after a Freedom of Information request, was unable to provide more recent figures.

The Department for Transport says CCTV should be only used when it is impractical to use traffic wardens, and rules cash from parking charges and fines cannot be used for other services.

But many drivers and businesses have accused Southend Council of using the spy cars as a “cash cow”.

Maria Sanders, owner of Kays DIY Centre, claims daily patrols outside her shop, in Beresford Road, Southend, have frightened away all her customers.

She has successfully appealed four tickets for unloading outside her shop, and said: “It’s absolutely outrageous. It’s about making money.

“That spy car is down here every day. As soon as people see it, they are out of here.”

Coach companies have also been fined for picking up and dropping off children as safely as possible outside schools, as the Echo revealed last Friday.

Bill Cook, owner of Cooks Coaches, inWestcliff, says fines are making jobs at Chase High School and Lancaster School, in Prittlewell Chase, uneconomical.

Schools are resorting to paying fines on behalf of firms just to keep coaches coming.

Mr Cook said: “There is no common sense. There are always complaints about parents parking outside schools, but other people have a job to do.”

Bob Wells, owner of Printer and Cartridge Solutions in Woodgrange Drive, Southchurch, collected 2,400 signatures pleading for spy cars to be scrapped.

A separate petition was started by businesses on the Stock Road Industrial Estate.

However, the council refused to bow to public pressure, as a review had already given them the thumbs up to continue.

Disillusioned Mr Wells said: “They just ignored it. The council doesn’t listen.”

Roger Hutchinson, of Willingale Way, Thorpe Bay, has successfully appealed four tickets.

He said: “If someone can win four out of four appeals, there is something wrong with the process.”

The council insists the spy cars are about improving safety – not making money.

Bosses claim the vehicles have helped cut parking infringements, with the number of fines falling from 8,076 in 2012 to 6,958 in 2013.

A spokesman said: “The primary use of CCTV cars is as safety and enforcement vehicles working, where practical, alongside the existing foot patrols to improve traffic flows and enhance safety by ensuring parking restrictions are complied with.

“The vehicles are clearly marked to indicate their intended use.

“Their use is predominantly deployed at the request of the community, councillors and school children themselves who want to be protected from inconsiderate and often dangerous parking by drivers.”

The council says the CCTV cars are particularly effective enforcing restrictions at school “keep clear” zones, crossings and junctions.

The spokesman added: “The council has a duty of care to protect all residents and visitors to the borough.

“It does not compromise on safety and provides information on the locations of CCTV cars so drivers are aware enforcement of highways legislation is taking place.

“If more drivers abided by the laws of the highways, they wouldn’t receive fines – but regrettably a number continue not to do so.

“It should be noted that CCTV car enforcement is significantly improving parking compliance in Southend, evidenced by the number of penalty charge notices issued.

“We reassessed the operation of CCTV car enforcement after 12 months. A members’ workshop was held to seek input to improve the service.”

However, the Government could ban spy cars by Easter.

Eric Pickles, Communities and Local Government Secretary, is considering whether to ban their use to “rein in overzealous and unfair rules”.