Councillors accused of letting down the town

A MORPETH business group has accused local councillors of failing to stick up for the town in a fierce parking debate.

County councillors met last week to discuss a proposed parking strategy for Northumberland following a long-running dispute over potential charges and regulations.

But as the debate heated up Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade was dismayed to see Morpeth members taking a back seat.

Chairman of the Chamber’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Charles Robinson said: “We are utterly dismayed by the lack of response from our unitary councillors.

“The main concern expressed at our committee meeting was that our four unitary councillors — Ian Lindley, Andrew Tebbutt, David Moore and David Woodard — sat at the meeting and did not speak out for the interests of Morpeth or for the protection of the shoppers’ permit when they had the opportunity to do so.

“The councillor for Berwick spoke up for there and other councillors spoke in favour of free parking or a reduction in charges, but what dismayed members of the chamber who were present was that our unitary councillors said nothing.”

The debate took place at County Hall on Wednesday after it was called by opposition groups.

Previously, the council’s ruling Executive decided that other members did not need to discuss the strategy and delegated future parking decisions to officers, but the matter was ‘called in’ through the scrutiny process and was sent to the full council for discussion.

Currently, parking is free in south east Northumberland, but charges are applied in the north and west towns of Morpeth, Alnwick, Hexham and Berwick.

And while businesses and residents in the south east of the county insist that their free parking should stay, campaigners in other areas, such as Morpeth, argue that a fair and equal charging system should be applied countywide.

Coun Lindley said: “I’m sick to death of speaking about parking. What we have is different bits of the county all wanting what suits them.

“The Morpeth Chamber of Trade wants everybody to be charged the same and the people in south east Northumberland want nobody to be charged. None of these positions make any sense at all. It is just nonsense.

“There isn’t a single authority or town in Britain that doesn’t have different parking rates, not just for different towns, but also different car parks in towns. You have to cover the cost of the car parks and you have got to take into account the traffic flow and the competition.

“Each community has to have a parking plan and charging regime to suit that community. For some towns it will be free parking and some areas will have charging. That has to be worked through properly on the basis of strategy.

“It has always been that way, even in the old districts. For example, Morpeth had charges and Ponteland didn’t.

“I’m just trying to do the best job for the people of the county.”

Coun Woodard said: “There are 67 councillors so some are not going to speak about car parking in a debate. Also it is a countywide issue, not just for Morpeth.”

Coun Tebbutt declined to comment and Coun Moore was unavailable for comment.

A cross-party working group will be set up to examine future changes to the parking strategy, which will require approval at full council, and a case by case review of car parking management, including charges, will take place at all county-operated sites, with local consultation.

l In the driving seat

l Still time to give your views

l Grave concerns

– Page 3