TRADERS in Morpeth say they will not budge on their demand for free parking.
The Herald revealed last week that while Morpeth Town Council has already voted to bring in free parking operated by a disc system in April, developer Dransfield Properties has put forward new proposals.
The options indicate that charges could be applied, but the cost of short-stay parking would be reimbursed to customers if they spend a minimum amount in select stores, such as Marks and Spencer, Rutherfords or Morrisons.
Monitoring of time limits would be carried out through an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system, which would be able to alert enforcement officers or issue fines through the post.
Now the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has said that it will oppose any plans for charging and stands by its long-running campaign for free parking.
Chairman George Williams said: “It is ridiculous to expect people to go to certain shops to buy something in order to get their money back for the car park.
“The chamber’s policy is still for free car parking with a disc system. We have been asked to look at ANPR so we are considering that at committee and will probably take it to the full chamber in January for further discussion.
“Whatever system is put in, we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that it is completely free. That is one thing that we won’t back down on.
“We don’t want a system with refunds. Parking has to be free at the point of entry.”
Morpeth Town Council agreed this autumn that parking charges should be dropped in the town for at least a 12-month trial from April after Northumberland County Council’s Labour Administration said that local communities should decide their own parking policies.
Meanwhile, a temporary free parking period began last week and runs until Boxing Day to boost local trade in the run-up to Christmas.
Mr Williams said: “The free parking is going very well. We have had a lot of positive responses from people.
“People have seen this advertised and come into Morpeth because of it. All of the businesses in the town seem to be doing very well and the public are coming back to Morpeth because of it.
“Everybody is very happy with the arrangement, which is why it is even more important to get permanent free parking in April.”
Chamber Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson added: “I have only heard favourable reports about the free parking initiative and shoppers on the street have welcomed it.
“It is a massive boost for businesses at this time of year. I have heard a number of stories from traders about seeing above average custom so it seems to have been working very well.
“It is so important for some businesses because such a high proportion of their annual business is done in the fortnight leading up to Christmas and the money they make then is what keeps their shops open in January, February and March.”
He added: “There is no doubt about it, there is a strong correlation between parking charges and where people decide they will shop.”