THE Morpeth shoppers’ parking permit has been scrapped for new applications, but council bosses have put plans for Sunday charging on hold.
The popular shoppers’ permit was introduced by the former Castle Morpeth Council following pressure from businesses to allow local residents to park in the town for free during quieter spells of the day.
But now Northumberland County Council has suspended the scheme for new permits until a countywide parking strategy is agreed.
The move, which will still allow existing holders to use their permits and replace them free of charge, has been slammed by the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, which has held it up as another example of the council showing bias to south east parts of the county.
The group’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “We do not understand why the shoppers’ permit scheme, which the Chamber of Trade persuaded the council to introduce some years ago, is being suspended.
“The council acknowledges that this scheme has been a tremendous success and suspending the scheme while no long-term decisions have been made doesn’t make sense.
“If free parking in the south east of the county is being preserved until the outcome of the parking review is decided then surely this small concession for the residents of Morpeth should be preserved also.
“If not, the council will yet again leave itself open to claims of showing bias towards residents in Cramlington, Blyth and Ashington.”
However, traders have welcomed the decision to defer new Sunday and Bank Holiday parking charges in Morpeth until a full strategy is formed.
The charges had previously been agreed by the council’s Executive in February 2010 and were due to come into force in April this year.
But there was outcry from residents and businesses, who said it was unfair to put an extra charging burden on Morpeth while free parking remains in other parts of the county, and churchgoers were concerned that the extra cost could mean some people would be unable to come into the town to worship.
Mr Robinson said: “We are totally against increasing the car parking burden on residents and visitors in the town, particularly while this review is still going on, so we are pleased that the council has decided to hold back on the introduction of these charges until the full outcome of the consultation is known.”
The decisions follow a Northumberland Parking Strategy Consultation, which ran from September to early January, about proposed control measures.
The council said a new strategy is necessary to provide a consistent and fair basis to consolidate policies from the former district authorities, but it refused to confirm that parking charging will be introduced in south east parts of the county, despite admitting that existing Morpeth charges will stay.
The Herald and its sister paper the Northumberland Gazette collected a 2,888-name petition calling for fair and equal charging to be applied countywide, but the council said charging issues were not part of the consultation.
A total of 550 people responded to an online survey by the authority.
Of those, 57 per cent supported a proposal for the council to take on civil parking enforcement from police, with 35 per cent against.
Only 38 per cent backed plans to use a model that scores car parks and will be used to determine controls according to criteria such as usage, proximity to key services and demand, with 48 per cent against, but the council says the results may be due to people not understanding the model.
However, in the survey 80 per cent said they understood the main criteria and 76 per cent understood the sub-criteria.
There was divide about extending the Morpeth shoppers permit countywide, with 44 per cent in favour and 48 per cent against, but 84 per cent of respondents said there should be free parking all day on Sundays.
A council spokeswoman said: “The findings from the consultation are now being analysed and a report is being prepared.
“The decision to introduce Sunday charging in Morpeth from April 1, previously agreed by the council’s Executive, has been deferred until the final strategy is agreed following full consideration of the consultation findings.
“It has also been decided to allow the current Morpeth shoppers’ permit scheme to continue until a decision whether to implement a countywide shoppers’ permit is made.
“However, new applications to the scheme have been suspended with immediate effect and only replacements in respect of vehicle registration changes for existing holders will be processed free of charge.
“The proposed Car Parking Model is the mechanism for deciding where controls, either in the form of time limits and/or charges, will be applied. The level of charge applied to pay and display parking places is not part of this strategy as this will be determined through the budget process.”
Discussions on proposals for individual areas are expected to take place this spring, before the new strategy is drawn up. It is expected to be approved by the authority’s Executive and Full Council late this summer.
For information on progress visit www.northumberland.gov.uk/parking 2010