FRESH calls have been made for shoppers in south-east Northumberland to meet the estimated £385,000 running costs of their car parks.
The demand has come from the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade over fears that market towns in the north and west of the county could see their hourly parking charges rise to meet a shortfall in council budgets.
Northumberland County Council has agreed to roll out the Morpeth shoppers’ permit countywide, allowing free parking for holders at quieter times of the day, but officials have warned that it will lead to an estimated £200,000 fall in revenue and they suggested that increasing charges could be a way of plugging the gap.
But Morpeth business leaders say a fairer solution will be to introduce fees in the free car parks in south-east Northumberland.
And if the rates were set simply to cover the maintenance costs of the facilities it would amount to more than £385,000. Currently, the cost is covered by revenue raised in car parks in the north and west of the county.
The figures have been estimated by the chamber’s Car Parking Sub Committee Chairman Charles Robinson.
He said there are 7,056 council-owned car-parking spaces across the county, which cost about £1million to maintain and run. Breaking down the figure it shows an average cost of £142 per space, and as there are 2,716 spaces in south-east Northumberland, the maintenance cost for them alone would amount to around £385,672.
Mr Robinson, who is a chartered surveyor, said: “We were very pleased when it was announced that the shoppers’ permit was going to be rolled out throughout the county. Yet then we find out the cost of that might well end up being paid for by those areas that already pay for car parking by way of increased charges.
“Faced with this situation, we came up with a proposal which we thought made a lot of sense, that while Cramlington, Ashington, Bedlington and Blyth would not contribute to revenue streams, it would not be unreasonable if they paid something towards the cost of running and maintaining their car parks.
“In my business, we rent out properties and I’m quite sure that if we said to a tenant they could have a property rent-free as long as they maintain it and paint the outside once in a while, they would be delighted. The proposal we have put forward is more or less that.”
However, at last month’s chamber meeting, Mr Robinson said that when he put the idea to county councillors none showed any support.
And when Coun Andrew Tebbutt was asked to oppose any rises in Morpeth hourly car parking charges, he said driver- should not object to minor increases.
In his response to Mr Robinson, he said: “There is no such thing as a free lunch any more and it seems nonsensical to me to think that people will spend large sums of money on a posh car, fill it full of expensive fuel and then go ballistic if the charge for parking the car goes up by a miniscule amount.”
He added that the council taxpayer should not have to subsidise the full cost.
Mr Robinson said: “We have been on for three years now, trying to get the council to adopt an equitable approach to dealing with car-parking issues – so far we have failed.
“The real problem is that it seems that for political reasons the council will not consider any changes to the regime in south east Northumberland, which we think is totally unfair.
“We are all aware of the unitary council’s support for Morpeth in making funding available in difficult times for the South East Northumberland Link Road and also the flood alleviation works, and we are grateful for that. Nevertheless, the issue of car parking remains a complete blank spot.”
l Continued on P2
l From P1
Fellow chamber member Geoff Proudlock told the meeting: “I agree entirely with Charles that we should try to get south east Northumberland to pay for the upkeep of its own car parks. If it has free of charge car parking there, why shouldn’t it? It is not unreasonable to accept that.
“Why should the people of north and west Northumberland have to pay for that? It just doesn’t make sense in any way.”
However, Coun Tebbutt told the Herald that different conditions in different towns have to be taken into account.
“The issue of the cost of car parking in Northumberland is totally tied up with the different economic conditions that exist in the various towns, including the rate of employment, the number of people on benefits, the number of people who live in Band A properties and also single occupancy,” he said.
“It is a very complex issue and it has been given a great deal of consideration in the car parking strategy.”
He added: “Any suggestion that as a Morpeth councillor I don’t care about Morpeth is totally unacceptable to me. All of the Morpeth councillors care very much about Morpeth, but it doesn’t mean we have to agree with the chamber of trade all the time.”