County U-turn saves shoppers’ permit

AN 11th hour reprieve has been given to the Morpeth shoppers’ parking permit after a U-turn by councillors.

Last week the Herald revealed that Northumberland County Council was planning to scrap the residents’ permit scheme that allows people to use the town’s car parks for free at peak times.

But in a surprise twist at County Hall on Monday, senior councillors said they had ordered a re-think and would consult further on the issue with local residents.

Morpeth councillor and Executive Member Ian Lindley said: “One of the key problems was that we were assured by officers that the cost of administration and operating costs around the revenue streams from the Morpeth shoppers’ permit would be prohibitive in trying to retain that and expand it countywide, but we have recently asked officers to have another look at that.

“It is important that where possible we should tailor solutions to localities in terms of charges and exemptions. The scheme is only taken up by just over 1,000 people, but it can still be quite important to those people.”

The decision has been welcomed by the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, which campaigned for the scheme to be extended across the county, but members are confused about the change of heart and say further consultation is unnecessary as it is already known how important the permits are to residents.

Chairman of the group’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Charles Robinson said: “While chamber members and residents with parking permits will be delighted at the change of mind at the 11th hour by the administration at County Hall, like many others I am confused as to the reasons at such a late stage for the about-turn.

“I am also confused as to why the council is merely suspending this decision, in other words, having decided to scrap the residents’ permits it has now decided not to scrap them, but may still scrap them within a short period of time. I understand that suspending the decision to abolish the permit is to allow for the council to consult with people who use the permit. After 10 months of extensive consultation and deliberation is the administration not already aware of just how valued the permits are to the residents of Morpeth and how well the system works?”

However, Morpeth town councillor David Parker was delighted to see the permits given a stay of execution.

“When Morpeth Town Council responded to Northumberland County Council’s car parking consultation it recommended the retention of the Morpeth shoppers’ permit. This was based on local town councillors listening to the public,” he said.

“When Morpeth town councillors became aware that the county council’s Executive was to be recommended to discontinue the permit, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Committee Chairmen and Vice Chairmen wrote to the Leader of Northumberland County Council suggesting that this be rejected.

“We welcome the Executive’s decision to further consult permit holders. Town councillors have spoken up for Morpeth. It is now up to the public to make their wishes known to Northumberland County Council.”

County Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson, who previously hit out at the idea of scrapping the scheme, welcomed the U-turn but put it down to political reasons.

“This is the biggest climb-down I have seen for years at Northumberland County Council,” he said.

“Just about five days ago the administration was saying it was going to scrap the shoppers’ permit and after losing a by-election in Morpeth on Thursday, the policy had changed by Friday.We think it should have properly investigated the introduction of a Northumberland-wide shoppers’ permit based on the success that the Morpeth scheme has had.”