BUSINESS leaders in Morpeth have repeated their calls for permanent free parking after surveys found widespread benefits of a temporary scheme.
A week’s free parking was provided in the town in the week before Christmas after county councillors voted through the initiative to try to boost local trade.
Both the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade and Sanderson Arcade have carried out surveys of businesses to assess the success of the scheme and feedback the results to the council.
And both reports show that traders and shoppers alike found it beneficial and would welcome the abolition of parking charges altogether.
Sanderson Arcade Manager Medi Parry said: “The feedback we got from all of our tenants when we spoke to them was that the free-parking period had brought new people into Morpeth that week. We had new customers at the arcade.
“The tenants said there was a big positive feeling towards the free parking and also there is evidence that their trade had picked up because of that week. We asked if free parking had increased trade and the majority said yes.
“The beadles also spoke to customers, who said free parking was a good idea and they would like to see it happening long-term.”
Chamber members reported similar results, saying the initiative increased footfall in the town, trade increased, the scheme was positive and new customers were attracted to visit Morpeth.
They said there was a positive response from shoppers and there was no severe congestion or impact on the availability of parking spaces as there was already a shortage of bays before the free-parking week.
Chairman of the group’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Charles Robinson said: “The vast majority of traders who were interviewed said that shoppers had commented positively and some said they only visited Morpeth because they had heard it was free parking now. It has all being exceedingly positive.
“It lays bare the claim that people are not influenced by car parking charges. There is no doubt at all now that shoppers in deciding their destination for shopping are sensitive to car-parking charges.”
Mr Robinson said the response to the surveys shows that it is now time to end the inequality between the market towns of Morpeth, Alnwick, Hexham and Berwick, where parking charges are applied, and south east Northumberland where car parks are free.
He said: “This was the first time that Morpeth had a week’s free parking prior to Christmas. It was the first time that Morpeth has had free parking since 1998 so we waited a long time to get what other people in south east Northumberland enjoy 52 weeks of the year.
“We have never said anything other than what we want is a fair and equitable parking regime across the county. The council’s administration has resolutely failed to take that on board, maintaining that it is fair to treat different towns in a completely different way, based on no scientific basis. There has been no study done and no evidence based facts put forward to support that.
“We had a meeting with trade groups in Berwick, Hexham and Alnwick in 2010 and our aim was to ensure the shoppers’ permit was extended across the county. That aim was achieved last year. That was the first step and the second step is to get a fair and equitable parking regime across Northumberland.”
The chamber has welcomed proposals by both the county’s Labour and Conservative groups to introduce free parking for all residents and a petition is currently being gathered by the Labour Party on the issue.
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Mr Robinson said: “It is encouraging to see that Labour has now adopted this as a policy and is in favour of free parking across the board. The Conservatives have also said they intend to introduce free parking for Northumberland residents so it looks like the Liberal Democrats are going to have to change their tune or be totally out of step with the other political parties.
“I have been speaking to the leader of Alnwick Chamber of Trade this week and he is really enthusiastic about the proposal of the Labour Party and feels that this year we are going to see the imbalance redressed once and for all. He has spoken to traders in Hexham, who are also excited, and in Berwick they have collected a lot of signatures for the petition for free parking.
“There is a head of steam building up now and hopefully we will see changes.”
The petition is available to sign on the county council’s website until February 26 at http://committees.northumberland.gov.uk/elps/entity/CQxEIQCzn6OrAwZnfMAhrmN?searchreq=50