RADICAL parking schemes have been suggested by Morpeth business leaders to try to tackle charging inequality.
Members of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade have backed plans by Northumberland Conservatives to introduce a permit scheme for residents, giving them free parking throughout the county.
However, they have also put forward a range of alternative proposals to be considered in the longer term.
Les Sage presented two of the options — an annual charge added to council tax bills, or a discounted meter scheme for residents.
He said: “I’m a believer that there is no such thing as free car parking.
“In York they have meters so why can’t we have a system where we have a level charge of say 50p an hour in all car parks, but as a resident of the county you get a sticker for your car and you only pay 10p an hour.
“People can’t cheat because they need a sticker on their cars to get the cheaper rate.
“It is just a matter of altering the machines and the control of the car parks stays the same.”
His other suggestion was to make car parks free, but levy a £20 annual charge on council taxpayers to cover the costs.
Non-car owners could fill in a tear-off slip to avoid the charge and spot checks could be made to ensure there is no cheating.
The idea was supported by Ken Stait. “I would support a disc system, but this would be a nice clean way of putting the charge for the car parks on to every household in the county and then having an opt-out if people are not living in a car-owning household. I think that maybe a more in-depth look at that system could be worthwhile,” he said.
And Lynn Oxley proposed free parking for all as the costs of managing facilities would be much reduced without enforcing charges.
“I would imagine that the vast majority of the day to day cost of the management of car parks is on managing the people who collect the money from the car parks and maintain the ticket machines,” she said.
“There is a radical thought that if you weren’t charging for car parks the amount you would need to cover the vast majority of the cost of car parks would reduce.”
Coun Jackson said all of the proposals could be examined, but said the residents’ permit would be easiest and fastest to introduce.
Alnwick chamber member Geoff Proudlock agreed.
He said: “In the longer term, perhaps the precepting is something that is worth a very good long and hard debate about, but we have got to be practical and reasonable at this moment in time.
“That debate could go on quite a long time and we wouldn’t get any action. Let’s go for the shoppers’ pass and get something in place quickly.”