PLANS to launch free parking will step up a gear next week.
Final preparations are under way to drop charges for council-run car parks in Northumberland’s market towns, including Morpeth, from April 1.
And it has now been confirmed that Morpeth’s Morrisons’ store will also scrap fees at the same time.
Customers were hopeful that the approach had already been adopted at the supermarket this week as ticket machines were out of order.
But a spokesman for the company said it is down to a technical glitch and charges will not be dropped until next month.
He said: “In line with the council, we will have free parking from April 1, but this week it has been down to a technical issue.
“The machines can’t issue tickets at the moment so there is free parking until that is resolved, but we are still working out the details for the permanent free parking scheme.”
Drivers are being warned that while the county council will remove charges, time limits will remain in individual car parks and will be strictly enforced through a disc system.
Time discs will be rolled out to local businesses from Tuesday to pass on to customers, and a series of town centre distribution days will be held over the coming weeks.
The discs will be free until June 1, but afterwards a fee of up to £1 could be charged.
All those parking in short-stay facilities must display a disc, and a new ‘no return’ period will be introduced. In Morpeth it will mean drivers can not return to the car park within four hours of leaving.
The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Morpeth Town Council and Northumberland County Council are working together to raise awareness of the changes.
Coun Bob Robertson told members of the town’s Planning and Transport Committee last week: “We need to get the messages out to the people of Morpeth in the clearest way possible. A series of exercises will be carried out to raise awareness.
“Details of enforcement will be distributed with the discs so people can see clearly what changes are coming in.
“The message we need to get across very strongly is that the car parks in the centre of the town are three-hour maximum stay. People will not be able to return to those within four hours once they leave.
“It is really important that the public understands the changes.”
Free parking is being offered after an election pledge by the county council’s Labour Administration to allow communities to draw up their own parking plans.
The move followed strong pressure from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade and other business groups, who argued that it was unfair that charges applied in the north and west of the county, but not the south east.
Chamber Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “Now it has been decided that we are having the disc system, the chamber is 100 per cent behind it.
“We are working closely with the town and county council to ensure there is an efficient implementation of the system from April 1.
“We will be giving out discs free of charge to residents and visitors. There will be two sets of retail outlets involved — one will be happy to give out free discs until June 1 and the other group will be happy to do that and then buy them in after June 1 and charge for them.”
Businesses are invited to attend a short meeting at Morpeth Town Hall on Tuesday, at 3pm, to find out more about the system.
There will be presentations by Parking Manager Lynne Ryan and chamber member Ken Stait, followed by a question and answer session. Supplies of parking discs will be available.
Town centre disc distribution events will take place on Friday, March 28, Saturday. April 5 and Wednesday, April 9, from 10am to 3pm.
Free parking will be adopted in Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick, Hexham, Bamburgh, Beadnell, Rothbury and Wooler, but Corbridge, Craster, Holy Island and Newton By The Sea will retain charges for traffic management purposes, and Berwick Railway Station car park will also retain charges.
County Policy Board Member for Streetcare Ian Swithenbank said: “We believe free parking has benefits for residents, businesses and visitors.
“I would urge everyone to pick up their new parking disc so they are ready for the change on April 1.”
Information is available online at parking.northumberland.gov.uk