TRADERS have called for a parking charge holiday to help them through major roadwork disruption.
Morpeth is bracing itself for two months of traffic misery in the new year as gas and water works take place, along with the development of a new supermarket.
A one-way system will be set up to direct vehicles from Telford Bridge along Bridge Street, Newgate Street, Manchester Street and Stanley Terrace, and council officers expect strong police support to stop unauthorised parking.
However, severe disruption and congestion is still expected and businesses fear that they will suffer a substantial loss of trade as customers stay away from the town until the work is complete.
Now the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade is calling on Northumberland County Council to scrap local parking charges during the upheaval to try to retain shoppers.
Charles Robinson, who heads the group’s Car Parking Sub-Committee, said: “We very much appreciated Dick Philips coming from the county council to explain to the chamber exactly what is going to happen and the measures that have been considered to alleviate the congestion.
“Notwithstanding that, everybody knows that there is going to be serious congestion. This is going to cause problems for shoppers getting into the town to do their shopping.
“We know this for a fact because the last time major works were done with the refurbishment of the Market Place there was a perception that Morpeth was closed for business and people were bypassing it.
“With the best will in the world, this is going to cause problems. No matter what plans are in place there is going to be major disruption and word will get round that Morpeth is a difficult place to access for shopping and people will go to other centres in the short-term.
“Given that situation, the chamber members don’t feel it is at all unreasonable that an approach is made to the council for a free parking period during the works.”
Mr Robinson says that he expects council officers will turn down the request on the basis that car parking charges are used to ease congestion, but he says the argument does not stand up.
“The council will come back saying that car parking charges are not about revenue raising, they are about easing congestion, but the congestion is going to be eased by people turning their backs on Morpeth in the short-term so I don’t think that would be a valid argument,” he said.
“In any case, the congestion is not caused by shoppers in Morpeth, everybody knows that. It is caused by the historic layout of the town, the single bridge across the Wansbeck, the school run and the through-traffic, not shoppers coming in to shop.
“During the school holidays there are no large traffic jams at 9am and between 3pm and 4pm, the town flows very well when the schools are off so we need to knock the shoppers’ congestion argument on the head straight away.”
The chamber has also asked the council for support to promote Morpeth during the disruption.
Mr Robinson said: “We have asked the county council if it will consider providing a budget for advertising the fact that Morpeth is still open for business. It is very important that a clear message goes out about that.
“There will be serious disruption for getting in and out of the town, you can’t do a scheme like this without that happening, but what we are asking for is some help to minimise the serious impact on the retail trade in the town.
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“That can be done by a free parking period, relaxing parking charges, and also suitable signage at the five main entry points to the town, as well as some form of advertising that Morpeth is still very much open for business.”
The work is scheduled to begin on Monday, January 16 and the chamber has asked for weekly updates on its progress. It is due to last ten weeks, but may be done in six to eight.
County Network Manager for Highways Operations Dick Philips said: “I have agreed to provide extra signage on the outskirts of Morpeth to let people know the town is trading as usual.
“I have taken the request for free parking back to the council for consideration.
“We are working very closely with our partners Northern Gas Network and Northumbrian Water to ensure the roadworks programme causes as little disruption as possible to the town. We will do our best to get the message out that Morpeth is open for business as usual.
“I’m happy to update the traders’ association on the progress of the works on a weekly basis.”
An open meeting about the roadworks will take place in the Corn Exchange at Morpeth Town Hall on Wednesday, December 14, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Mr Philips will outline the plans and answer any questions.