NEW parking charges will come into force at Morpeth Railway Station.
Last month, the Herald reported that a 75-space car park had been opened on the site of former railway sidings in Coopies Lane following a joint initiative by Northumberland County Council and Network Rail.
But now notices have been posted to advise that consultation is under way to bring the facility within county parking enforcement rules.
And the council has confirmed that a £2 all-day parking charge will be levied.
Members of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) initially feared that the extra financial burden could put people off using the train as it would mean a 45 per cent increase in annual travelling costs for Morpeth to Newcastle commuters, taking their season ticket and parking total to around £1,470 a year.
However, the council says that people can buy a countywide parking permit for £130 a year, or £117 concessionary rate, substantially reducing the impact.
SENRUG Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “We think there is a real danger that if the charges are set too high it will put people off travelling by rail, which is totally contrary to the council’s objective of achieving a modal switch of transport.
“If the charge was £2 a day that would be around £460 a year for commuters. They are now paying £1,008 for an annual season ticket to Newcastle so that would be an extra 45 per cent in travel to work costs.
“Local government can’t do anything about the national rail pricing, but it can do something about car parking charges.
“However, if people can buy the parking permit it will bring the cost down to about 55p per day and I don’t think we would object to such a charge. We are still concerned about the impact on part-time workers, but the charges at that level are beginning to look more reasonable.
“We did support the creation of the car park extension and the yellow lines in Coopies Lane because things were getting a bit ridiculous there.”
However, Mr Fancett pointed out that no charges are applied for other station car parks in Northumberland.
“We are aware that in Alnmouth parking is free and at Prudhoe station parking is free so we don’t know why Morpeth commuters should have to pay, but not those from other parts of the county,” he said.
“It seems to do with the fact that the car park in Morpeth is regarded as being relatively near to the town, but it is not that near. It is a heck of a walk if someone is going to park there to go into the town.”
The campaign group is also concerned about what will happen at the original station car park owned by Northern Rail, which is currently free, as the council says talks are still ongoing with the company and no decision has been made on charging.
“There are questions we would have about whether the charges will apply to both car parks because the council only owns half of it and Northern Rail controls the other half,” said Mr Fancett.
“We would like to know whether the county parking permit can be used in the Northern Rail car park, and if not, will that car park remain free?”
SENRUG was particularly concerned about the introduction of hefty parking charges following a recent rise in rail fares.
Mr Fancett said: “I regard travel to work costs as a tax because you don’t have any option of not paying them. You can’t decide you won’t go to work one week because you will use the money to go to the cinema. I think the Government should be doing everything it can to ease the costs of travelling to work.”
He also called on the council to try to secure more bus services to the railway station.
“I would urge the council to use its influence to get buses to pull into the station turning circle so that it becomes easier to get to the station without a car. The final piece of the jigsaw is that we really need buses to call into the station,” he said.
A council spokeswoman said: “The public consultation is asking for comments on a proposal to include the car park within the council’s Car Parking Order, which means there will be restrictions on use, such as parking only for motor vehicles and motorcycles and these will be enforced by the Civil Enforcement Officers. This is a six-week consultation, which ends on February 1.
“The Coopies Lane and Staithes car parks will become chargeable and this will probably be at the current rate for Morpeth car parks of £2 a day. However, residents can buy a countywide parking permit at a cost of £117, which is equivalent to 35p a day and an economical option.”