A CONTROVERSIAL move to use traffic wardens as "planning snoops" is being considered by Hart Council.

From early next year they are likely to find themselves spying on local residents as well as booking motorists.

They are being lined up to keep watch for illegally built extensions and other breaches of the planning laws.

The council's four wardens may even be issued with cameras to gather evidence for the planning department.

Their evidence, after being checked out, could lead to a crackdown on those responsible for breaking the rules.

The idea of using the traffic wardens as "planning snoops" was first raised by the council's enforcement working party.

Viv Evans, the council's chief development control officer, confirmed later that they were pursuing the idea.

"It's early days yet," he said. "But the traffic wardens could be fulfilling this role by the first quarter of next year."

He said it was an attractive proposal because the council had only one enforcement officer to cover a vast area.

The traffic wardens, he continued, could be asked to follow up complaints and report back to the planning department.

Steve Waite, area officer for UNISON - the local government union - said: "This seems to be like a councillor's silly idea.

"Sadly, traffic wardens tend to be pretty unpopular, so getting them to work as ‘planning snoops' would only add to their problems."

It was the first time he had heard of a council considering such a move.

He intends to raise the matter when he meets the union's branch officials at the council on Monday.

"It smacks to me of planning on the cheap," he added. "Even if traffic wardens agree to do the work, then they will have to be properly trained and paid the rate for the job."