End of the road for parking permit

THE free Morpeth shoppers’ parking permit is to be withdrawn, while ‘unfair’ charging systems will remain.

Senior councillors are expected to approve a Northumberland Parking Strategy next week that sets out how parking issues will be managed.

During consultation about the document last winter almost 3,000 people signed a petition led by the Morpeth Herald calling for an end to the unfair system whereby parking charges are levied in the north and west of the county, while parking is free in south east towns.

And businesses were hopeful that the Morpeth shoppers’ permit, which was set up by the former Castle Morpeth Council to allow local residents to park for free at quieter times, would be extended countywide.

However, the Northumberland County Council report has dealt a double blow as not only are there no plans to introduce parking charges elsewhere, but the shoppers’ permit will be withdrawn.

Residents will be given a month’s notice of the situation if the strategy is adopted by the full council later this summer.

The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade is now calling for a reduction in hourly parking fees in the town to compensate as when the permit was introduced the rate increased by 10p per hour to offset any loss of revenue.

Chairman of the group’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Charles Robinson said: “We are still no further forward with the introduction of a fair and equitable system for car parking in Northumberland and while the document does not contain any proposals for alleviating the current unfairness, the residents of Morpeth will be bitterly disappointed that the shoppers’ permit will be scrapped with only a month’s notice.

“This is yet another clear example of how the current administration at County Hall is discriminating against the residents of the former Castle Morpeth area as nearly all other proposals will not be implemented before April 2012 at the earliest.”

He added: “The Castle Morpeth shoppers’ permit, which the chamber was instrumental in introducing several years ago, was hugely successful and achieved all of its objectives in terms of reducing congestion, reducing demand at peak times for car parking spaces and reducing shoppers’ carbon emissions with no loss of income whatsoever.

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“At the time it was agreed that in return for the shoppers’ permits the hourly rate would increase by 10p per hour. As the shoppers’ permits are now being scrapped will the council reduce car parking charges by this amount and if not, why not?”

Morpeth town councillor David Parker, who was involved in setting up the permit, is also disappointed.

“The county council should have a countywide strategy for car parking and charging should be used to relieve congestion and manage traffic everywhere, not just in Morpeth or Alnwick,” he said.

“The strategy is disappointing and the town council, I’m sure, will go on trying to persuade the county council that this is not the right way to go forward.

“I was very much in favour of the shoppers’ permit. It worked extremely well and it is very much to be regretted if this is not going to continue.

“We were hoping that the county council would not just keep the permit for Morpeth, but would extend it across the county. I’m sorry that this is not being proposed.”

Councillor Peter Jackson, who leads the county Conservatives, says his group will oppose the strategy.

“We think it is a mistake to get rid of the Morpeth shoppers’ permit. It has been successful, it has been shown to work and it is valued by people. I can’t see any reason to stop that,” he said.

“The other big mistake is to skirt over the issue of charging. That is the elephant in the room and it seems that the Liberal Democrat administration is trying to avoid making a decision on this.

“During the consultation there was criteria there for charging to have a clear system across the county. They have taken that out so the situation is even worse.”

Coun Jackson also criticised moves to hand power to officers to amend the strategy.

“They are trying to delegate all decisions about future parking policy and charging within that to a corporate director so the decision can be taken behind closed doors. Where will be the local democratic input in that?.

“I think that is completely wrong on an issue as sensitive to a community as car parking charging,” he said.

However, Morpeth councillor and Executive member Ian Lindley has defended the strategy.

He said: “It is not a good thing for Morpeth to lose the permit, but we have a responsibility to look at the county as a whole as to what would be practical to implement and what would be workable.

“A judgement has been taken that it is just not practical or affordable to have a scheme that covers the whole county, or bits of the county, given the administration time and how it would work.

“Obviously, it is a shame for Morpeth to lose that privilege, but we have to have a workable solution that is seen as fair by the whole county, not just one community in it.”

A county council spokeswoman said the strategy does not include plans to reduce parking charges in Morpeth to reflect the loss of the permit.

She said: “It was made clear in the consultation that the current Morpeth shoppers’ scheme could no longer operate as a free scheme, however there was a proposal to introduce a new countywide scheme, subject to a charge to cover the administration of the permits.

“Following the consultation, a findings report has been published on the council’s website, which includes analysis of the responses to the proposal on the shoppers’ permit scheme.

“The findings have influenced the preparation of the Northumberland Parking Strategy.”

The report shows that 44 percent of respondents supported a countywide shoppers’ permit scheme, with 48 percent against and eight percent unsure. The most common reason for objecting was that the permit should be free.

The strategy also proposes that the council takes control of civil parking enforcement, develops a countywide policy for community use of parking places, introduces a consistent approach to off-street controls and permit concessions, harmonises residents’ parking schemes, introduces time limits to loading bays and improves disabled parking arrangements.

It will go before the council’s Executive on Monday.