Consultation raises grave concerns

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TRADERS have warned they have serious concerns about proposed parking policy consultation.

Members of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade have criticised moves by Northumberland County Council to decide parking restrictions and regulations, including potential charges, on a case-by-case basis in discussion with local communities.

The business group is concerned that it could pave the way for inequalities to continue, with free parking in more vociferous communities in south east Northumberland and charges being levied in market towns such as Morpeth.

Chairman of the chamber’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Charles Robinson said: “We have got grave concerns about the consultation.

“There will be a degree of apathy in places like Morpeth that has got used to having parking charges, while there will be total opposition in other areas to the possible introduction of parking charges.

“Our view is that you can’t introduce tariffs or look at setting rules in this manner. It has got to be done from a strategic overview, from the top down rather than the bottom up. It will be very difficult to get a system that is fair to everybody if it is done from the bottom up.”

However, Mr Robinson welcomed the news that decisions have been taken out of council officers’ hands and will now be examined by a cross-party working group of councillors.

“We don’t agree that it should be left to the officers to determine who pays what. It is far too important an issue and far too sensitive an issue to be left purely to officers,” he said.

Mr Robinson said that while the chamber would welcome free parking countywide, a more realistic aim is the roll-out of the Morpeth shoppers’ permit, which offers free parking periods at quiet times of the day for local residents.

“We think free parking is a wonderful idea, but it was probably a bit of political gamesmanship at the meeting, rather than a well thought-out proposed policy,” he said.

“As a chamber, as much as we would love to see free parking throughout Northumberland I think we would want to see it put forward in a structured way.

“The more we look at it, the more a shoppers’ permit for Northumberland has so many advantages. If charges are going to be introduced in south east Northumberland this is an opportunity to give something back to those residents with free parking periods.

“It will avoid leakage to North Tyneside, which councillors say will happen, and it will provide more of a level playing field between Morpeth and south east Northumberland. It will also help the hard-pressed towns of Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham.

“The important thing is to concentrate on that in the short term.”