TRADERS across Northumberland are hitting the campaign trail to fight for free parking.
A new ‘Vote For Fairness’ election campaign has been launched by the Northumberland Market Towns Chamber of Trade, outlining the stance of the three main political parties on parking charges.
The initiative, which is backed by business groups in Morpeth, Berwick, Hexham and Alnwick, will see 5,000 flyers distributed and 500 posters put up in shops.
They state that the Conservatives have pledged to introduce free parking for county residents within 100 days if elected, Labour have backed free parking, but foresee obstacles with implementation and have no timescale, and the Liberal Democrats are against free parking countywide.
Currently charges are applied in the north and west towns, but parking is free in south-east Northumberland.
Morpeth Chamber Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “This is a very important time for us, coming up to county council elections. The chamber of trade for Northumberland thinks it is essential that we put before the public where each party stands on car parking between now and May 2.
“The market towns have suffered the unfair system that has existed for four years now where the towns in the south east get free parking, while the towns in the north and west have to pay.
“What we don’t want is parking charges in south-east Northumberland. What we do want is a level playing field. What is good for south-east Northumberland would be good for the market towns.”
The action was approved by the Morpeth chamber on Monday, with 12 votes in favour, one against and three abstentions.
However, some members were concerned.
Greater Morpeth Development Trust Chief Executive David Lodge warned that the campaign does not take account of other party policies, such as funding for flood works.
He said: “I think you are encouraging people to vote Conservative. The chamber should be clear about what it is doing, because there are a lot more policies than car parking. I think there is a bigger picture here. I can understand why you are doing it to get the issue out there, but it could be seen as biased towards a political party.”
Member John Beynon, who is standing as a Conservative candidate, said the chamber had previously backed Independents when they supported free parking.
Geoff Proudlock added: “This is our one chance to have a big drive and make the point that we have fought for since I was Chairman 28 years ago. All we are doing is showing what the parties’ policies are.
“We have got to be slightly political because we need to be fighting for what we want and if some political group is going to help us then we don’t have a choice. Any political party can change its views and we would then support them.”
And Ken Stait said: “All we want to do is highlight the fact that certain parties have said they are going to provide free parking and we believe that is going to protect the jobs in the town centres.
“We can try to do it in a softer way, but at election time you have to hit people between the eyes and make them sit up and take notice because it is the one opportunity you have got in five years.”
Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson welcomed the campaign.
He said: “It is great to get the support for our long established Conservative plans to bring in free parking for residents. There is a chance during this election to make a decisive change to car parking charging in the market towns in Northumberland.”
Labour Group Leader Grant Davey said: “It’s welcome that the business community is backing free parking for their towns and it’s clear we have a great deal of common ground. If Labour forms an administration in May one of our first tasks will be to work with the respective town councils and chambers to deliver free parking in Berwick, Morpeth, Hexham and Alnwick if that’s what local communities want. We believe the decision should be taken at a local level, not in County Hall.”
Morpeth Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “The position of the Liberal Democrat party is two fold. Firstly, free parking is not possible without seriously affecting the resources for other services, and secondly, charging in Blyth and Ashington would destroy those economies.”