PLANS to trial free parking in Morpeth for 12 months have been ratified by the town council.
And members of the public can now have their say on the initiative, which would remove charges at all county council-managed car parks from April 1 next year.
Nine facilities very close to the town centre will have a maximum stay of three hours and it is envisaged that this will be controlled through the use of time discs.
If the proposal goes ahead following the consultation, the town council will assess any benefits or negative consequences. It is hoped that it will bring more residents and visitors to the town centre and provide a significant boost to the local economy.
At a full council meeting, all members supported the planning and transport committee’s recommendations, although Coun David Parker and Coun Andrew Tebbutt said it was important to have a trial because they have a few reservations about the plans.
Later in the week, committee chairman Ken Brown told the Herald that during a meeting with county council officers, they confirmed Morpeth’s proposal as being viable.
He added: “We’re now at the stage where we are putting forward what we’re planning to do to residents and after speaking to the county council officers, it seems that Morpeth is the most advanced in its preparations for a parking strategy.
“We would like as many people as possible to respond to our questionnaire and the key question is whether or not they want to see the removal of car parking charges.
“It’s a good time to trial this scheme because there are so many things going on in the town such as the transport review, neighbourhood plan and potential re-opening of the former Morrisons store, and we have more parking spaces than ever now that the facilities off Dark Lane and Staithes Lane are open.
“There are a range of options for providing the discs to members of the public and we would be looking to put in place a five or six-week period before April 1 so people can get their disc in advance.
“Even if they are branded with Morpeth, they will be valid in other parts of Northumberland. The county council has also agreed to refund the shoppers’ permit on a pro rata basis.”
The town council is also looking to introduce very short-stay spaces (up to 20 minutes) at appropriate on-street locations.
The proposal has been welcomed by the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade.
Member John Beynon said: “It’s fantastic news for the town, as it will help all of our businesses.
“After informing traders that free parking might be happening, we received the most positive reaction that we’ve had from them in many years.
“We look forward to being involved in the consultation and if the change goes ahead as planned, we will encourage workers in the town to stop in the long-stay car parks so the ones close to the town centre can be used by shoppers.”
The questionnaire is available at the town hall and Morpeth Library and it can also be completed online at www.morpeth-tc.gov.uk
The deadline is October 31.