Concern at hold-up over parking data

ESSENTIAL figures on Morpeth car park usage have still not been handed to town councillors almost a month after they were requested.

Morpeth Town Council first asked for the data on Thursday, February 2 to find out if the figures backed claims from traders that fewer shoppers were coming into the area during town centre roadworks, putting businesses at risk.

Councillors say it is vital to have the information to decide how best to tackle the situation.

But Northumberland County Council has not responded to the calls.

Coun David Parker said: “Unfortunately, the statistics we have asked for we have not got.

“It is three weeks since this council asked for the information and the county council should have found a way of getting this information to us.

“We know that one or two trading outlets are closing down and in the case of one of them we know that the people running this particular business have said that what has been happening since January 16 when the roadworks started was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Whether that is true in the other cases I don’t know.

“I have been monitoring the car parks over the last few weeks and if you go and have a look some days they do appear to be quieter than normal. I don’t know what the difference is, that is why we wanted this information.”

Deputy Clerk for the town Angela Logan said she had been told the county authority did not have the data, yet Coun Mark Horton said that town and county councillor Andrew Tebbutt had sent an email saying the weekend car park usage figures were near to normal.

Coun Parker said if car park usage is down then there could be a case for acting on the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade’s calls for free parking periods to encourage more people to come to the area. However, he said that without the figures it is impossible to judge.

“We should really point out to the county council that this information is vital for this council to do its work,” he said.

“This town may be facing something serious. That information relates to the economic viability of this town and we are concerned about that.

“We don’t want to be speaking out of turn and making representations which aren’t appropriate, but on the other hand without the information we are in no position to make a judgement.

“Various people and various organisations are lobbying us and we are concerned ourselves about the situation.

“What I would say is that the county council should think long and hard about not charging for parking on those days where there seems to be a significant change in the usage of the car parks. If there isn’t such a change then all right, but if there is it should be taking appropriate action.”

Coun Richard Thompson said that the figures may not be so different from last year when there was heavy snow and suggested that data on traffic passing through the town may also be relevant.

However, Coun Parker said that as it is estimated that 20 per cent of the traffic usually coming into Morpeth is simply passing through, and those drivers are likely to be staying away during the roadworks, it may not help to have the information.

He added: “The difficulty is that we are in a trading period which is not actually that good right across the country.

“Secondly, we are in a post-Christmas situation where trading historically is not that good anyway, even when the economy is not that bad. This will also impact on the Morpeth economy.

“However, we are concerned about whether there is a third factor in that the roadworks are adding to the situation.”

The council’s Planning and Transport Committee agreed to write to the county council again, demanding the information is passed on.

Coun Mark Horton said: “I think we need to up the ante a bit concerning getting this information.”

Northumberland County Council Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott said: “Our records show that usage of the council’s car parks in Morpeth this January is slightly up on last January.”