Unpopular CCTV spy cars have been branded an "excuse to issue parking fines on an industrial scale" after handing out almost 50,000 tickets in four years.

Sutton Council uses cars equipped with cameras to monitor illegal parking around the borough.

The cars have proved unpopular with motorists, many of whom see them as a money making exercise rather than a parking enforcement measure.

Your Local Guardian: SUTT: CCTV cars net council £1m since March 2011

One of the CCTV cars occupies a disabled parking space - something they are allowed to do

Since their inception in 2010, they have handed out 49,426 fines to illegally parked motorists and last year the CCTV cars accounted for almost half the total number of parking tickets handed out.

A Sutton-based member of anti-CCTV car campaign group No to Mob has said the cars should be used as a deterrent rather than a money making scheme.

The campaigner, who goes by the pseudonym Overlord to protect his identity, said: "It's not the CCTV cars themselves as much as the way they are used that we have a problem with.

"They say it's not about raising revenue, that it's about keeping the roads safe but that's nonsense.

"We've seen CCTV cars hiding in bushes and with their cameras sticking up over walls to catch people - that's not a deterrent, that's just making money."

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the cars could be banned, calling them "over-zealous" last year but no legislation has been passed since then.

Emma Carr, acting director of civil rights group Big Brother Watch, added: "CCTV spy cars are just an excuse for councils to raise money from issuing parking fines on an industrial scale.

"The Government should urgently investigate whether or not the use of cameras to snoop on motorists breaches surveillance laws, particularly where a traffic warden sits in a control room looking for motorists to ticket."

Sutton Council has yet to respond to a request for comment.