Two-thirds of the drivers who took their appeals against Parking tickets in Brighton and Hove to the highest level have won their fight.

The National Parking Adjudication Service (NPAS), which has the final say if people challenge a fine, said almost half the appeals brought before it from the city were not even challenged.

The city council has come in for strong criticism in the three years since it took over control of the city's parking enforcement.

NPAS, which acts as an appeals court for claims rejected by the council, dealt with 140 cases from the city in the last financial year.

The council did not contest 61 of those - 44 per cent - while NPAS allowed a further 30 - 21 per cent.

The People's Parking Protest, which is lobbying for reform of the city's parking arrangements, said the figures were an indictment of the system.

Spokesman Steve Percy said: "It is outrageous because it proves once and for all that traffic wardens are issuing tickets that should never have been issued."

Under the Road Traffic Act 1991, councils can take over parking and some traffic enforcement from the police.

Brighton and Hove began controlling parking enforcement in 2001 and sub-contracted it to NCP.

The city's Conservatives estimate that parking fines brought in about £8 million in the first two years.

NCP's running costs account for about £2.5 million a year.

In the first year the council spent £1.3 million on public transport and highways improvements.

The 2002/03 income from parking penalty charge notices was £5,215,437.

Lawyers raised doubts about the legality of the city's parking arrangements last year but Government officials confirmed the scheme was above board.

Mike Weatherley, 46, a financial adviser to pop guru Pete Waterman and a Tory election candidate, was fined £180 for six tickets he received while on holiday in December.

He says there were no residents' parking spaces near his central Brighton home because non-residents were using them illegally.

He said: "When you want to appeal there are fixed reasons given for appeal and if your reasons don't fit within those strict categories, you cannot appeal.

"Clearly if all these appeals are being upheld, the tickets should not have been given in the first place.

"I am amazed by the 65 per cent figure because these tickets have already been through an appeal in the first place."

The council said there were about 15,000 appeals in 2002/3 and most were dealt with in-house.

A spokeswoman said most of the 61 uncontested appeals related to cars that had been sold on and, of those remaining, the authority had won 68 per cent.

She added: "The small numbers going to independent adjudication show that most cases are successfully resolved.

"This is thanks to the care staff take in reviewing all circumstances surrounding the issuing of parking tickets.

"However, the council fully supports an individual's right of appeal on any parking ticket and we include details of the National Adjudication Service to every person whose appeal is rejected.

"As with the previous year, the council is winning most of the contested appeals, which is in line with other local authorities and above average for a city with a large parking operation."