A ROW has broken out over traders’ election campaign for free parking.
Last week the Northumberland Market Towns Chamber of Trade launched a ‘Vote For Fairness’ campaign, setting out political parties’ views on parking charges.
The group is arguing for a fair system as currently parking is free in the south east of the county, but there are charges in Morpeth, Alnwick, Hexham and Berwick.
Both the Conservatives and Labour now back free parking countywide, but the Liberal Democrats say it would mean huge budget cuts to other services.
And now the party has blasted the Morpeth chamber for taking a political stance.
Councillor and election agent for the Liberal Democrats Andrew Tebbutt said: “In the past five years councillors from Northumberland County Council and Morpeth Town Council have worked hard with Morpeth Chamber of Trade to address a variety of issues in and around Morpeth to promote and sustain the local economy.
“We have recognised differences, but worked together for the best interests of Morpeth and in particular the promotion of local trade. We are on record in saying how important we think the Morpeth Chamber of Trade is.
“We are therefore astonished and disappointed that the chamber of trade has taken a political stance in this election campaign.
“We can understand that it wants free parking, but to come out in support of a political party on a single issue is not what is expected from a chamber of trade.
“Such organisations should certainly lobby on issues, but to align with a political party could actually damage not only their reputation, but also their trade.”
Coun Tebbutt said the chamber should look to the bigger picture as Morpeth car parks are usually full so free parking would increase congestion, while funding it would cause council job losses or increase council tax.
The chamber has hit back at the claims, saying it has never been political.
And members were stunned to receive an email from town councillor Ken Brown, which suggested the Lib Dems would identify the chamber as a front for the Conservative Party, highlight that its Northumberland Chamber member is a Conservative candidate, and that it might be perceived that it is using funds from the town council to publish political material.
He warns that Morpeth Town Council would not fund any organisation engaging in political activity, which would prevent the payment of an annual subsidy to the chamber and threaten joint projects such as Northumbria In Bloom and Town Team.
Chamber Vice Chairman Charles Robinson said: “Let me make absolutely clear that the chamber of trade is not a political organisation and does not support any one political party.
“Five years ago this chamber started a campaign for the introduction of a fair system of parking charges for the whole of Northumberland. Our members and the wider public could not understand why under a single unitary council some towns had parking charges and some did not, decided solely on the basis of which former district council they belonged to.
“Now with an election looming the Liberal Democrats are attempting to deflect attention away from the unfair system, which they have whole-heartedly supported for four years, by trying to politicise the chamber’s stance.
“We are not backing these parties — they are backing our call for fairness by introducing free parking in their manifestos.”
He added that the campaign is being run by the Northumberland chamber, not just Morpeth.
Coun Brown has been reported to the Northumberland Standards Officer by Conservative candidate David Bawn over his email to the chamber.
Coun Tebbutt said: “Mr Bawn has failed to declare on his complaint that he is a candidate for the same seat. That could be the subject of a counter-complaint.”