PLANS to introduce an increase in charges for Morpeth’s car parks have been dropped.
The Liberal Democrat executive has also announced that fees will be scrapped entirely on Sundays in Berwick, Alnwick and Hexham and will not be introduced in Morpeth on that day to help town centres in tough economic times.
The authority had previously considered the measures in order to save £547,000 from parking revenue, but it recognised they would have an adverse impact on local businesses.
These moves have been welcomed by the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, although it has once again criticised the administration for not bringing in an equal charging system across the county.
And the Northumberland Conservative group described them as ‘too little, too late’.
Originally, the plan was to harmonise charges in market towns by increasing them in Morpeth, Alnwick and Hexham and reducing them in Berwick.
They will now be reduced by a larger rate in Berwick, but stay the same in the other three towns.
But despite a major review into parking over the last couple of years, there is still no indication that hourly rates will be introduced to car parks in the south east of the county, which enjoys free parking.
Chamber Vice-Chairman Charles Robinson, who leads its Car Parking Sub-Committee, said: “We’re delighted that there is going to be no increase in car parking charges in Morpeth and that they will not be introduced on Sundays.
“Fees have already gone up by 50 per cent in five years in our town and it would have been wholly iniquitous to put them up in market towns across the north and west of the county without addressing the south east area.
“Our proposal for the residents of south east Northumberland to just pay for the maintenance and management of their car parks would raise in the region of £500,000 and the council could plug the financial gap.
“But the executive continues to treat the south east as a separate county when it comes to parking.
“With the elections coming up next May, it’s understandable that a decision on whether or not to tackle the inequality will be left to the next administration.
“I would like to add that I’m pleased for Berwick as it has suffered from the highest charges in the county for years.”
Fees will remain on Bank Holidays, other than on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The plans will be considered at an executive meeting next week. They also involve increasing the cost of the county’s annual parking permit, which allows holders to park free in all council-owned car parks, from £110 to £130.
Council leader Jeff Reid said that the proposals proved what Northumberland Liberal Democrats have consistently said about parking charges.
“Parking charges are not about making money for the council – it is about coming up with something that actually works,” he added.
“Remove all parking charges, and remove the effective enforcement of parking, and you will create chaos in the county’s market towns.
“We are running a responsible council and cannot make promises for short-term political gain that will be undeliverable in the long run.”
Last year, the Conservative group unveiled proposals that would allow Northumberland residents to park for free in council-run car parks once they have paid a one-off fee to register their vehicles. Those from outside the county would still have to pay fees.
Morpeth Conservatives spokesman David Bawn said: “Twice this year the Conservatives have put a motion to council calling for free parking in Morpeth and across Northumberland. On both occasions the Lib Dems have voted to block free parking.
“The new proposals are a damp squib, as they maintain Morpeth charges at their current level whilst parking remains free in Ashington, Blyth, Bedlington and Cramlington.
“This is totally unfair and it is unbelievable that it is being claimed as some sort of victory for Morpeth, which continues to be used as a cash cow to support spending elsewhere.
“The parking policies of the different political parties are well known by now. A Conservative council will abolish parking charges for all residents of Northumberland, but the Lib Dems will keep charges in Morpeth in order to subsidise free parking in Ashington, Blyth, Bedlington and Cramlington.”