Free parking plans for Northumberland Line stations are scaled back
County bosses have rowed back on plans to offer free parking for two years at railway stations on the planned Northumberland Line.
The passenger route is set to reopen in 2023, with proposals suggesting travellers would see fees for leaving their cars at the stops waived for the first two years as part of attempts to entice them on to services.
But leaders at Northumberland County Council have now decided charges will be reviewed after just 12 months, following concerns about the possible knock-on effects of the policy.
“Car parking is going to be one that we have to watch and monitor quite carefully,” said Coun Richard Wearmouth, deputy leader.
“I agree we shouldn’t be charging in the first instance, certainly for the first year, to make sure that we get things established.
“But I think, looking at Ashington, for example, there’s going to be a great temptation for people in Morpeth to drive across to Ashington to benefit from free parking and regular service, rather than using one station where you have to pay.
“We’re going to have to manage that demand properly and [make sure] that we don’t end up with a load of empty car parks on the East Coast [Mainline] just because we’re not charging for them on the Northumberland Line.”
Plans to give passengers two years of free parking were suggested as the best way to “maximise the modal shift to rail” once the new route opens.
The proposal had been praised by county councillors as an “excellent idea’”to encourage use of the rail service, without clogging residential streets around stations.
But just 24 hours later the local authority’s ruling cabinet decided the scheme would need to be kept on a tighter leash.
Rick O’Farrell, the council’s interim executive director of local services and regeneration, said: “We want to encourage people to use the new trains and we don’t want to deter them from driving to the car park by putting charges on.
“If you put charges on there would be a chance we would displace that parking on to residential streets.”
He added: “We will be monitoring the position of all car parks from day one and if something drastic seems to be happening after the first year, we will bring it back [for further consideration].”