NEW parking controls have been suggested for Morpeth, using number plate recognition and charges.
Morpeth Town Council has pledged to introduce free parking for at least 12 months from April, based on a disc system to manage car park time restrictions.
But now Sanderson Arcade developer Dransfield Properties has suggested three alternative options using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), which may include car park charges.
The system, which would capture images of vehicles as they enter and leave car parks, could send an alert to enforcement officers when a vehicle has exceeded the time-limit, or automatically issue fines through the post.
It would mean that drivers could not change the time on a disc to remain in a bay, or move their car to another short-stay space in the town.
Dransfield Properties spokeswoman Amanda Holmes said: “I think everyone is in agreement that free parking is a positive step forward for Morpeth, but that it really needs managing properly.
“We are not looking to be involved in the management of the car parks, but we do believe this is a hugely important decision for the town and getting it right is crucial, not only for the existing retailers and other businesses in Morpeth, but also for prospective occupiers of the former Morrisons’ store.
“We are therefore keen to engage in the decision-making process and put forward suggestions based on our company’s experience as we do have concerns that the disc system will be open to abuse and lead to confusion for visitors.
“ANPR is one of the alternatives which has been discussed and if managed properly and fairly we do believe it can work well.”
She added: “We have always been supporters of free parking in the town and see this as a great opportunity, but one which could be counter-productive if it isn’t managed properly.
“It is, of course, for the town council to make a decision on which solution is taken forward once all the alternatives have been considered.”
The first option, outlined by Creative Parking Solutions, could also monitor new 20-minute parking bays, as well as generate reports on driver patterns, repeat visitors, parking capacity and revenue generation predictions.
Option 2 would increase time limits in short-stay car parks from three to four hours and charge for parking, but reimburse the cost if customers spend a set minimum amount in selected outlets, such as Marks and Spencer, Morrisons or Rutherfords.
Eventually, the only long-stay car park would be at Staithes Lane, which would be governed by permits, costing £25 a quarter.
The final option would provide free long-stay parking, but continue to charge for short-stay with reimbursement from select stores.
However, Morpeth Town Council has already rejected ANPR in favour of a disc system.
Its Planning and Transport Chairman Ken Brown said: “The town council’s Community Parking Plan submitted to the county council at the end of November said that we had looked at ANPR and decided that it was not appropriate for Morpeth.
“It seems to be a use of technology for the sake of it. We have seen no evidence to suggest that a disc system wouldn’t work and Morpeth would be the only town in the county that would have ANPR, which would be confusing for visitors.”
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “The chamber is aware of the proposals and is considering them prior to formulating a response.”
Northumberland County Council will discuss the ideas at a policy board meeting in February.