A PETITION calling for free parking across Northumberland has now gone online.
Last week the Herald revealed that the county’s Labour group was embarking on a new campaign to push for permanent free parking following a successful bid by the Conservatives to introduce it as a temporary measure in the run-up to Christmas.
Both parties now agree it is unfair that charges are levied in the county’s north and west market towns of Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham, while those in south-east Northumberland, such as Blyth, Ashington, Cramlington and Bedlington, have free parking.
And both say a free system should apply countywide, although Labour has suggested that town and parish councils should have the final say for their own communities.
Now the Labour group’s petition has been posted on Northumberland County Council’s website, with hopes that it will attract the required 1,000 signatures to prompt a full debate.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “It’s vital that the county council helps businesses and residents in tough economic times and that’s why it’s right that the Labour Party draws attention to a measure that it is clearly unfair.
“I would urge the council to take this matter seriously and do the right thing for Morpeth.”
The group is also challenging comments in last week’s Herald from Liberal Democrat Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt that scrapping charges could cost the council up to £5million, saying its figures indicate that the cost would be £1.95million.
Labour Group Leader Grant Davey said: “Instead of defending the indefensible, Coun Tebbutt should stop bandying around voodoo figures and enter into a mature discussion about why it’s ok to levy charges for parking in towns like Morpeth and Berwick and not in other parts of Northumberland.
“His answers so far just aren’t good enough and I hope he takes notice of this petition and campaign. It’s Coun Tebbutt who makes the decisions in County Hall and he needs to acknowledge the importance of this issue.
“I’m sure local Conservatives will back our campaign and I’m calling for them to support the petition and send a message to Coun Tebbutt in County Hall.”
Coun Tebbutt said: “I made my position regarding car parking in south-east Northumberland very clear in last week’s Morpeth Herald. I also made my position clear regarding the aspect of charging.
“Coun Davey is politicising, which is particularly disappointing so close to Christmas.
“The council needs to be financially stable and it is easy for the opposition to make promises, it is not as easy to deliver them.”
Last week Coun Tebbutt said that hard decisions would have to be made to balance the budget if free parking was offered countywide, but no charges will be introduced to south-east Northumberland as the local economies are too weak.
Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “I take on board that the Labour group has started to take this issue as seriously as the Conservative group has for the last four years.
“We have definitely got to look at the options that are available to bring in a sustainable free car-parking policy for the whole county.
“I would be very keen to have further discussions with Coun Davey. I think the issues will be in the detail of what we are all proposing, but we need to sit down with the council’s highways officers and hammer out the best way of introducing this for the whole county.”
On Tuesday, a week of free parking began after the offer was voted through by the county’s Conservative and Labour groups.
Coun Jackson said: “I had a look around Morpeth and the positive publicity seems to have attracted a lot of people to do their shopping in Morpeth. I think it has been a great success. I didn’t see any chaos.
The car parks were fairly full, but there were spaces around. There were still quite extensive queues at the traffic lights at Telford Bridge, but that was the only sign of chaos I saw.
“Hopefully, it will be the start of a really successful week for Morpeth. What it has done is throw up the question about what we do for the rest of the year.”
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade Chairman John Beynon said: “I haven’t had any negative comments at all about the free parking. Everybody thinks it is a great idea. A few members of the public have contacted me to say it is fantastic.
“The town seems busier and I think it will be a benefit to traders. It is a great start for the run-up to Christmas.”
The petition for permanent free parking is available at http://committees.northumberland.gov.uk/elps/token/DvDrK4EjXBYjB92jsyA71ai until February 26.
Petition forms are also available for local shops and businesses by email at email@example.com
• Around 57 spaces at the Dark Lane car park should be made available again this weekend after being taken up for building work at the supermarket site.
In addition, about 30 spaces of the new underground car park have been released for town centre retail workers. The facility will be fully open by the spring.