Full council will now hear parking debate

PROTESTERS from market towns across Northumberland turned up at County Hall yesterday to witness yet another U-turn in the county council’s car parking saga.

A decision on whether Northumberland County Council’s car parking strategy, which deals with issues such as parking charges and shoppers’ permits, will now be made by the full council at a future meeting, despite the Executive already approving it at their own meeting.

Two weeks ago, the Executive alone approved the strategy and said that any future decisions would be made on a deferred basis by the corporate director of local services in consultation with the Executive member for infrastructure and environment.

This decision was called in as it was felt to be contrary to the council’s presumption of openness and members of the economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee have now agreed to send the decision back to full council.

In explaining why the decision was not sent to the full council in the first place, Coun Isabel Hunter, Executive member for infrastructure and environmnt, said that this was just the initial stage and that further consultation will now take place before the implementation of the strategy is decided by the full council.

She said: “This is only the skeleton to allow us to go to the next stage.”

Committee member Coun David Woodard said: “We need to consult with the various towns on the various issues involved in parking and traffic management.

“Obviously under the consultation when the process is complete it has come to full council. I see, in the meantime, there is no advantage or need for the full council to be called on this subject.”

But other members felt that the issues needed to be discussed in full now.

Coun Peter Jackson said: “This is something that affects the public in their daily lives and people feel very strongly about it.

“We as councillors get held to account for it and that is why I think it is so important that it goes to full council.”

Coun Ian Swithenbank, ward member for Cramlington East, told the committee: “To have it (parking) free for some and not for other is unsustainable in my opinion.”

He criticised the Executive for making the decision on car parking strategy alone and said: “It smacks of empire building and it smacks of taxation.”

Representatives from business groups from Morpeth as well as Alnwick and Hexham spoke out at the meeting.

Geoff Proudlock, of the Morpeth Chamber of Trade, underlined the chamber’s four key demands on parking.

They are the continuation of the shoppers’ permits, the permits being rolled out across the county, certainly in the market towns, free parking on Sunday and greater parity across Northumberland.

He said: “It shouldn’t be a political issue.

“In the future we hope that our councillors will take up the challenge, something that they have not done in the past.”