A FRESH bid to push for free parking across Northumberland is gathering momentum.
The Herald reported in December that the county’s Labour group was launching a petition calling for all parking charges to be scrapped, unless specifically requested by town and parish councils.
The move is designed to put communities on an equal playing field as currently charges are levied in Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham, yet there is free parking in the south east of the county.
Now Morpeth’s Sanderson Arcade is backing the petition and the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has also voiced support.
In Berwick, more than 1,240 signatures have been collected and business groups in Alnwick and Hexham are expected to join the campaign. The completed petition will be presented to Northumberland County Council.
Labour Group Leader Grant Davey said: “We think parking charges in Northumberland are fundamentally unfair.
“This petition is an important opportunity to send a message to the authority that the way charges are being applied is hitting businesses and residents alike at a time when the council should be acting to stimulate economic growth.
“It’s time to end this unfair tax on some communities and give Northumberland businesses an equal playing field and it’s time to stop using indirect taxes like parking to fill the holes in the council budget.”
Northumberland Conservatives have also proposed free parking for county residents.
Sanderson Arcade spokeswoman Amanda Holmes said: “We don’t see this as a political issue – a number of different groups have voiced their support for changes to the parking regime and we are certainly fully behind a review of parking in Morpeth.
“Speaking to our retailers and our shoppers there is a great deal of support for free parking and there was a lot of very positive feedback from people during the temporary free-parking period in the run-up to Christmas.
“We do need to be mindful of ensuring that any new parking regime still encourages people working in the town to use the long-stay car parks. It’s important for all stakeholders to work together on this issue to come up with a solution that benefits the whole town.”
At a meeting of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade on Monday, Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said that he supported the aims of the petition in principle, although the extent of the group’s involvement will be discussed further.
He added: “It’s now four years since a delegation from the chamber went to County Hall to speak about the unfair parking situation in the county and sadly not a great deal has happened since then.”
On Tuesday, county councillors discussed the impact of the free week of parking in the run-up to Christmas.
A report to the Economic Prosperity and Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee said that while monitoring of car parks suggested there was an increase in usage in some towns, it was unclear whether this was down to free parking or the busy Christmas period.
In Morpeth, there was little change in the weekly comparisons as the car parks were busy most of the time, but there were increases, particularly in the afternoon in Newmarket East and Stanley Terrace North.
There was also discussion of reported confusion around the enforcement of time limits, although officers were praised for organising the scheme in a short timescale.
Coun Glen Sanderson said: “Had it been agreed a month before and had we got the signage absolutely right, I think it would have been an enormous success.”
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Members of the Morpeth, Alnwick and Berwick chambers of trade agreed, saying that feedback had been positive.
Morpeth Chamber Chairman John Beynon said: “We talked to the public on a daily basis and the public said it was fantastic. You need to get a grip on reality and talk to the public and talk to traders.”
But Coun Paul Kelly said that the motion to bring in the offer was a political event, with a “very mixed outcome”. He also suggested that traders needed least help at Christmas and it should be looked at for a slack point of the year.
Coun Anita Romer added that people were ignoring the fact it cost the county in revenue.
And Council Leader Jeff Reid defended parking charge inequality in the county.
He said: “The reason we have this regime is traffic management. The money is not put in a pot somewhere. It’s all re-circulated within the service.
“If it’s about how much it costs to park then Blyth and Ashington would be rammed all the time and Morpeth would be empty. Actually the reverse is true because it’s about the offer.
“It’s not about how much it is, it’s about the offer the place has.”
The free parking petition closes on Tuesday, February 26. To sign it visit http://committees.northumberland.gov.uk/elps/entity/CQxEIQCzn6OrAwZnfMAhrmN?searchreq=50