‘Parking system debate must be based on facts’

A FULL debate, based on facts, must be had over Morpeth parking controls, a prominent businessman has said.

Richard Rutherford, who owns department store Rutherfords of Morpeth, has spoken out over concerns that misinformation is clouding the issue of car-park management.

Free parking is set to be introduced from April, but time restrictions will remain to ensure workers use long-stay bays on the edge of the town and short-stay spaces are available for shoppers closest to stores.

Morpeth Town Council proposes using time discs to manage the spaces, but an alternative Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system has been suggested by Sanderson Arcade developer Dransfield Properties.

The system would use CCTV to capture images of vehicles as they enter and leave car parks, sending an alert to enforcement officers when they overstay, or automatically issuing fines by post.

However, the proposal has met with some objection from residents and Mr Rutherford fears that some of the criticism is unfair.

“If we are going to have a debate, it has to be on the premise that people have all the information about the options,” he said.

“I’m personally in favour of ANPR, but let’s have a proper debate about it.

“People seem to believe that Dransfield Properties is going to get something out of it. It is not.

“The council asked for a consultation process on car parking and Dransfield brought up the possibility of ANPR as part of that consultation, but ANPR would be run by the county council, not Dransfield.

“We have fought for ten to 15 years for free car parking and now we are arguing about how we are going to run it.”

A report presented by Dransfield Properties had suggested that parking charges could be applied, but reimbursed if customers spent a set amount at certain shops, such as Marks and Spencer, Morrisons or Rutherfords.

However, Mr Rutherford said free parking is more likely.

“I don’t think charging is a serious option. I believe free parking should be free parking,” he said.

“We do need to have a system of controlling free parking though. We need different time periods for different car parks, because we don’t want people parking all day next to the shops. The ANPR could be set up by the town council with the restrictions it wants — there could even be a grace period of 15 minutes. It is not a hard-and-fast system, it can be drawn up in any way you like.”

Mr Rutherford said a disc system would be more difficult to manage, drivers could forget to set times, visitors would not know where to obtain a disc and some stores may not have them at hand.

He added: “To be told that because other towns like Alnwick would have a disc system we should follow suit is ridiculous. We should be leaders and I think ANPR is an effective solution.

“We have to move with the times.”

Morpeth Town Council has already rejected the idea of ANPR, saying it is unnecessary and not appropriate.