Free parking has begun across Northumberland — and businesses are hailing it a success.
Parking charges were abolished in council-run car parks on Tuesday in many of the county’s market towns, including Morpeth.
The measure follows years of campaigning by the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, which argued that it was unfair for Northumberland’s north and west towns to have charges when parking was free in the south east of the county.
When the Labour group took control of Northumberland County Council last year it agreed that each community should decide its own parking arrangements.
Along with Morpeth, Alnwick, Bamburgh, Beadnell, Berwick, Hexham, Rothbury and Wooler took up the offer of free parking from April 1, but charges remain in Corbridge, Craster, Holy Island, Newton by the Sea and Seahouses, as well as Berwick Railway Station.
Council Portfolio Member Ian Swithenbank said: “This has proved a really popular measure, which will help safeguard and create jobs by making it easier to access our towns. For the first time in many years, local communities have been able to decide whether they want free parking and how they want to implement it.”
Residents have rushed to get free parking discs, which must be displayed to ensure drivers respect the strict time limits in short-stay car parks.
To date around 76,500 discs have been distributed, with more than 20,000 given out in Morpeth alone. Council staff, town councillors and chamber of trade members have been handing out the discs.
Chamber spokesman John Beynon said: “We have had a fantastic response to free parking. If any councillors were in doubt as to how popular this would be, it has been answered. The public are really in favour of it.
“It has only been a couple of days, but there has been a buzz around the town. We’ve done a straw-poll around the shops and everybody is saying the customers really appreciate it and say they are going to start using Morpeth more. We think it really will make a difference to businesses.”
He added: “We would like to thank council officer Lynne Ryan and her team for all the work they have done getting discs out, as well as thank members of the town council who have been helping.
“Special mention must go to our member Charles Robinson, who has been leading the fight for free parking for the last 16 years. Without Charles, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Discs are available from Morpeth Town Hall and county council buildings. They will also be distributed at Morpeth Farmers’ Market on Saturday, from 10am to 3pm. For information visit parking.northumberland.gov.uk