Free parking hailed a success

George Williams, Charles Robinson and John Beynon celebrate the removal of parking charges.
George Williams, Charles Robinson and John Beynon celebrate the removal of parking charges.

Free parking has been hailed a success six months after it was introduced.

Charges were dropped from Morpeth town centre in April after Northumberland County Council backed the move following years of pressure from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade.

A time-disc system was adopted, in common with Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham, to ensure short-stay spaces could be provided for shoppers in the centre of town, with workers and long-stay visitors directed to car parks on the outskirts.

And the Morpeth chamber says the changes have been welcomed by businesses and shoppers alike, with traders reporting an increase in footfall, as well as a more relaxed atmosphere.

Chamber Car Park Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “It has gone very well indeed.

“There are some teething issues. People have been caught out with fines for not using a disc or adhering to the car park time limits so we are looking at that with the county council to try to make sure people are fully advised before they park.

“It is such a radical change so there were bound to be one or two problems, but apart from that it is working fine.

“The great news is that we are getting reports of increased pedestrian flow in the town, and the downside we were warned about, that we would have untold congestion, just hasn’t happened.

“In the run-up to Christmas we might find that is a problem, but that happens every year. Six months on the system is great and all the benefits are there for everybody to see.”

Mr Robinson said free parking has increased demand for long-stay spaces and the chamber is working with the council to look into the possibility of providing five-hour spaces to ensure shift workers can find a bay. Currently, the car parks are either designated all-day parking or a maximum stay of three hours.

“We are looking at that, but at the end of the day, the free parking for workers was a by-product of getting free parking to benefit the economy of the town. The aim was to bring more shoppers in,” he said.

Sanderson Arcade Manager Medi Parry said footfall at the centre is up 20 per cent on last year and more visitors have been attracted to the town as a result of free parking.

“Our footfall is up 20 per cent, which I think is a combination of free parking and the good weather. Free parking has really helped to bring people here,” she said.

“It seems to be working really well for us and I think that is the feeling across the town.

“With the time limit increasing from two to three hours, people are less rushed.

“We found we had a lot of new people at the Food and Drink Festival this year so I think free parking has definitely helped to attract people to Morpeth from further afield.”

New signage and disc dispensers have recently been installed to raise awareness of the time limits.