Court ruling boosts free parking calls

A SENIOR county politician has demanded a swift end to car parking charges, citing a High Court ruling.

Northumberland Conservative Leader Peter Jackson has issued a call to the county council to scrap charges now in the towns of Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham and put them on a free parking par with neighbouring communities.

The demand follows a High Court judgement where in a landmark case against Barnet Council it was found that the authority had acted illegally in raising profits from car parking, which were then applied to the council’s general revenue.

Coun Jackson said that under the Road Traffic Regulation Act councils can only set fees for permits and other parking charges ‘for the purpose of relieving or preventing congestion’.

He said: “Excessive car parking charges have been seen as a form of poll tax on wheels for too long in our market towns, including Morpeth. For the past few years in Northumberland the excess income from charging over and above the cost of running the car parks has been in the order of £2million a year.

“This High Court judgement gives further backing to the long-running calls from Northumberland Conservatives for free car parking from our county council.

“We urgently need to address the current unfair situation of charging in some towns and not in others. We need to open up Morpeth and provide a boost for local trade, rather than charging people to use the car parks.

“Now we have been told by the High Court that we have to stop treating local residents and local motorists as an easy source of income for the council.”

Coun Jackson suggested that a disc system, with strict enforcement of time periods, would be better to tackle congestion.

A review is currently under way into parking charges in the county after the ruling Labour administration said the issue should be left to local communities to decide.

However, Coun Jackson said free countywide parking should be introduced immediately.

“The current delays in dealing with the anomalies in car parking charges in Northumberland are only causing confusion,” he said.

“Local people and local businesses in Morpeth are still suffering from an unacceptable and unfair car parking regime.”

However, Council Leader Grant Davey defended the ongoing consultation.

“We think local communities are best placed to decide how they want to manage their traffic, not councillors in County Hall,” he said.

“For example, is Coun Jackson sure each town wants free parking? Does Hexham want to ditch parking controls? It seems that we’re more keen to let local people decide, unlike Coun Jackson who still wants to impose his will on communities.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “The High Court ruling relates to on-street parking within residents’ controlled parking zones. The charge that Northumberland makes for residents’ parking permits only covers the cost of administering the scheme and there is no surplus.”