INCREASING Morpeth’s car parking charges to pay for a countywide shoppers’ permit would not be acceptable, town councillors have said.
Northumberland County Council officers have suggested that hourly charges may have to rise to offset a £200,000 loss of income from the roll-out of the Morpeth shoppers’ permit that allows locals to park free at quieter times of the day.
Councillors are yet to say whether they accept the proposal, but the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has slammed the idea, saying it will be unfair to increase the parking charge burden in Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham when towns in south east Northumberland continue to pay nothing for car parks.
And now Morpeth Town Council’s Finance and General Purposes Committee has said the while the extension of the permit is welcome, the county council should look elsewhere to recoup the money.
Committee Chairman David Parker said: “The decision, we understand, will reduce the county council’s income by about £200,000 per annum. There have been suggestions from county officers that this should be covered by raising car parking charges. In line with the town council’s car parking policy, this council would deprecate such a step.
“It does not think that car parking charges should be used to increase Northumberland County Council’s revenue, but be solely used to manage the movement of cars in and out of car parks and attendant costs.
“Any loss of income should be met by making savings in other parts of the county council’s budget, or from balances, or by raising the council tax, or by any combination of these.”
He added that increasing council tax to cover the loss would be preferable to proposals by the county’s Conservative group to introduce free residents’ parking at all times, which he said would pass all of the car park costs on to taxpayers.
Coun Derek Thompson said the shoppers’ permit does not address present inequalities in the charging system.
“There is still a huge area of the county that isn’t subject to any car parking charges and that is what causes irritation and annoys quite a lot of people.
“The shoppers’ permit will only be used where charges are in force and that doesn’t overcome the annoyance of many people who feel that the system is still unfair,” he said.
And Coun Nic Best said it will not be fair for non car users to have increases in council tax bills to cover the cost of the permit.
“I’m happy to welcome the retention of the shoppers’ permit and roll-out across the county, but I’m concerned at the suggestion of how it might be paid for,” he said.
“If it goes on the council tax then everybody, including non car users, will be paying for it, and non car users generally are more deprived.
“We know that the county council’s policy is that parking charges should be a revenue stream because it is in its strategy.
“Bus users are paying more for bus fares because the county council has reduced its subsidies of buses. Rail users are paying increased fares because the Government has reduced the subsidy for operating companies. Why shouldn’t car users pay more for the facilities that are provided for them?”
Coun Parker said charge increases would still go against the town council’s adopted policy on car parking.
“The point is that we have got a policy that says we should only impose charges in order to manage traffic effectively and cover other costs in relation to the management of the car parks. If you lump this £200,000 on to charges in certain parts of the county, that has nothing to do with the management of traffic in those areas,” he said.
“I see no reason why Morpeth, for example, should be penalised in that way, or Hexham, or wherever, when there are other places in the county that don’t even pay anything for their car parks to be maintained.”
Coun Les Cassie agreed.
“I welcome the fact that the county council has finally agreed that we should retain the shoppers’ permit for Morpeth that we have had for five to seven years.
“I think it would have been terrible if that had been removed and I’m pleased the town council lobbied to make sure that wasn’t the case,” he said.
“I also welcome the extension from 5pm to 6pm because I think it makes life simpler for people coming into the town.
“However, in light of the very contentious issue of car parking charges in Northumberland, I think it would be wholly wrong to increase the parking charges in Morpeth while others are not paying anything, and I think the £200,000 should come from somewhere else in the county council’s budget.”
The committee agreed by six votes with two abstentions to write to the county council welcoming the decision to retain and extend the permit, but stating that any attempts to recover the costs should not come from increased hourly charges.
The county’s Executive agreed last week to offer two shoppers’ permits per household countywide, for a charge of £15 each.
It will allow holders to park free in designated car parks between 9am and 11am, and 3pm to 6pm, Monday to Saturday, as well as on Sundays and Bank Holidays.