New strategy fails to ease charging concerns

PARKING charge inequalities are set to remain across Northumberland as a new strategy fails to tackle the thorny issue.

Members of the county council’s Executive Board approved the Northumberland Parking Strategy on Monday, but the document makes no mention of the unfair charging systems in different communities, nor makes any suggestions of how to address them.

Instead, a scoring system to determine which car parks require controls has been removed and the report provides for future amendments to be delegated to officers, rather than councillors.

It also suggests that local communities should be actively involved in developing local solutions.

The result could see charges remain in market towns such as Morpeth, Alnwick, Hexham and Berwick, while parking stays free in the urban south east of the county.

The strategy was nodded through without mention of the existing inequalities and a near 3,000 name petition, led by the Morpeth Herald and our sister paper the Northumberland Gazette, calling for a fair and equal charging system for all, was effectively dismissed.

Executive Member for Infrastructure and Environment Isabel Hunter said: “We have done a lot of consultation on this. There has not always been a lot of response for the size of Northumberland, but not everybody will respond to it unless you say you are going to charge for parking.”

However, fellow member Ian Lindley said: “We have had 600 to 700 responses and they were often from representative bodies representing a large number of people.”

The strategy provides for new policies to be adopted relating to the community use of parking places for events such as breast screening, armed forces recruitment and markets, a review of resident parking schemes to harmonise arrangements countywide, the introduction of loading bay time restrictions and the move towards civil parking enforcement, which would see the council take responsibility for both on and off-street parking.

The latter requires permission from the Government and is unlikely to come into force until early 2012, but councillors are keen to press ahead.

Coun Hunter said: “Civil enforcement is not just a way of making money, it is to do with moving on illegal parking.

“The police don’t have the capacity to tackle it now and some town centres are blocking up and people are not always coming in because they are saying they can’t get in.”

The Executive was told that it may not be necessary for the strategy to go before the full council for approval, but it is believed that opposition councillors will insist upon it, or call the decision in for scrutiny.

Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “It is a long settled policy of Northumberland Conservatives that there should be a single, fair regime of parking charges across Northumberland.

“This parking charge consultation has ended in farce, with the Lib Dems ignoring the very issue of inequality that makes local people so angry.

“We remain in the fundamentally unfair situation where local people have to pay to park in Morpeth, but not in Blyth or Ashington. Morpeth residents are subsidising free parking elsewhere in the county and this must be addressed.”