COUNTY parking permits have been labelled ‘a secret club’ amid calls for more publicity about the scheme.
As the Herald reported last week, concerns have been raised that some drivers have not been told about changes to the shoppers’ permit, which allows free parking at quieter times of the day.
The new system, which came into force this month, has been rolled out countywide, but there is now a £15 charge for each permit issued, with a maximum of two per household, and they can only be used in certain car parks.
Previous holders have been allowed a month’s grace to apply for the new permits, but there are fears that some will be hit with fines as Northumberland County Council does not have full records of all those who registered under the former Castle Morpeth scheme so has not been able to inform them of the changes.
Now town traders have also questioned how other communities in Northumberland will know about the permits.
At a meeting of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade on Monday, member Lynn Oxley said: “Since we are trying to encourage new people into Morpeth, people who weren’t included in the permit scheme before, what publicity is going out to people who don’t live in this area?
“Is this our own secret club? If you have been in the scheme in the past, everybody knows about it, but if you haven’t, then it’s a case of stuff you.
“I used to have a shoppers’ permit and I haven’t had any notification whatsoever.
“What good is it going to do Morpeth in trying to get more people who live in Northumberland and currently shop in Cramlington or Ashington because of the free parking, to come to the town if this is a secret club?”
Chairman of the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, Doug Phillips, said he was informed of the new system, but it could be because he had renewed his permit in the last few years after changing his car.
However, fellow member Charles Sellers said he had not been told and there was little information available at the council’s customer service centre in Bridge Street.
“I think it is important that we ask the county council to put some publicity out,” he said.
“I would be completely hacked off if I was one of the people with a car parking pass who suddenly starts getting fines when I have a legitimate pass without an expiry date on it and there is no information telling me the pass has been replaced.
“The county council does not have full records of who has a parking pass at this time. If we don’t take up this issue as a chamber of trade and ask the county council to sort it out, I have to ask the question, who will?”
Charles Robinson, who leads the chamber’s car parking sub-committee, said he asked the council to put out information about the permits with council tax bills, but to no avail.
“I share the frustration,” he said. “I agree there are people out there who from June 1 will get tickets because they were unaware of the changes. They have put signs up on the car park pay machines, but if you have a permit you are not going to go to the machine. Nor will you know there is a change in relation to the car parks where you can use your pass.”
In Morpeth the new permits, which last two years, can be used at Stanley Terrace North and South, and Newmarket East and West.
They can also be used at specified car parks in Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham.
A council spokeswoman said: “We have written to as many of those residents who have an old Morpeth parking permit as possible to alert them to the change. We have also put posters up in the car parks.
“We have provided information in the Morpeth customer information centre and on our web pages at parking.northumberland.gov.uk.