SHOPPERS’ parking permits will be rolled out across Northumberland, but there are still no details on hourly charges.
Northumberland County Council’s Executive has backed the retention and countywide extension of the Morpeth scheme that allows permit holders to park free at quieter times of the day.
And in a last-minute amendment to the plans, the afternoon time period for the permits has been extended to run until 6pm.
However, no mention was made of how the scheme will be funded, despite officers’ warnings that it may lead to an increase in hourly parking charges to recoup the estimated £200,000 in lost revenue.
At a meeting on Monday, Executive Member for Infrastructure and Environment Isabel Hunter said: “I would like the Executive to note the report from the Car Parking Strategy Working Group and accept the recommendations it contains, but I would like to propose, to make it easier for implementation and enforcement, that the afternoon session is extended from 3pm to 5pm, to 3pm to 6pm.
“Hopefully, the shops will see that we are trying to support them and that they will try to help the residents and shoppers by staying open. The budget implications will have to be picked up by the Local Services group.”
The scheme will enable residents to buy up to two permits per household, registered to individual vehicles, for £15 each to run for two years. They can then be used in specific car parks across the county between 9am and 11am, and 3pm to 6pm, Monday to Saturday, as well as on Sundays and Bank Holidays, subject to car park restrictions.
People will have to be on the electoral register to claim a permit and must be able to show ownership of their vehicle.
The scheme is expected to be introduced in May.
However, concerns remain about the limitations of the initiative and the county’s Conservative Group, which is campaigning for free residents’ parking at all times, says it does nothing to address the inequality of free parking in south east Northumberland while shoppers in the north and west have to pay.
Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “We still have the rural market towns like Morpeth paying a very high hourly charge for parking when just down the road we have towns with free car parking that are attracting shoppers. It is very damaging to the local economy in Morpeth.
“The Conservative proposal still stands – the only way to address this is to have free parking for Northumberland residents so everywhere is on a level playing field.”
He added: “Credit has to be given to the Morpeth Chamber of Trade for applying enough pressure on the Liberal Democrats to make them have this complete turn-around on the permits because it was less than six months ago when they were going to be completely abolished.
“However, this is a very limited step of maintaining the status-quo and we need a much more radical policy to make a big difference to Morpeth and towns like it.
“It is a minor step on the way and we won’t stop until we get a level playing field right across Northumberland.”
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade welcomed the retention of the shoppers’ permit, but major concerns remain.
Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “While Morpeth Chamber of Trade and our colleagues in Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick maintain that the car parking strategy as proposed by the Conservatives is the fairest system, we welcome the countywide shoppers’ permit as proposed by the administration as an interim measure.
“We are pleased that the Executive has listened to our representations and has decided to change the free period in the afternoon from 3pm to 6pm. We would still like to see the scheme start at 8am.
“While members can accept that in these difficult times a modest charge should be made for a permit, we remain at a loss to understand why this should be renewed every two years. The arrangement means that if a shopper changes his car every five years he could be having to renew his permit four times in a five-year period.
“Renewing the permit at the point of changing car, address or at the expiration of a five-year period would be much fairer and reduce unnecessary workload on hard-pressed council employees.”
He added that members are still anxious that hourly charges may rise.
“Car parking charges in Morpeth have already increased by 50 per cent in recent years and we will be looking to our unitary councillors to join us in fiercely opposing any proposal to increase charges further,” he said.