BUSINESS leaders have given their full backing to plans for free residents’ parking in Northumberland.
The suggestion was put forward at an extraordinary meeting of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade on Monday.
County Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson outlined a proposal for all Northumberland residents to be given access to two permits, at a charge of £15 each, enabling them to park free throughout the county at all times of day, subject to the restrictions of individual car parks.
Charges would then be applied to council-run car parks countywide for non-permit holders to pay.
Chamber members unanimously backed the idea, and invited guests, representing trade groups in Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham, also offered their support.
Morpeth’s Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “I think it is an excellent proposal and I’m quite sure it will be welcomed by the vast majority of traders throughout the county.
“It is very encouraging to have a politician stand up and talk about the need to address some of the issues that we have raised and to speak up for Morpeth town.
“One of the main things we have been accused of is that we are trying to ruin every business in the south east of the county by insisting on parking charges there. We are not insisting on that. All we are asking for is a level playing field.
“A residents’ permit throughout Northumberland will offer an awful lot of benefits and it would allow people in south east Northumberland to retain free parking. It is a win-win for everybody.”
He added: “I hope that other politicians don’t see this as a political football and that they will support a policy that has so many merits.”
Geoff Proudlock, who was representing Alnwick Chamber of Trade, agreed and called for action to introduce the scheme as soon as possible.
“The thing that Alnwick businesses are taking seriously is the time-scale,” he said.
“The proposals are by and large good. They are what we wanted in the first place, and probably even a bit better. I do think that other political parties are beginning to take these ideas on board as well, but what will be the time-scale?
“The longer this goes on, the longer people suffer in communities where parking is not free at the moment. At the moment Morpeth is alright, but Alnwick is not and nor are Berwick or Hexham.”
Coun Jackson said he would like to introduce the policy tomorrow, but it requires support from other parties. However, he will take it to an all-party car parking working group at the council as soon as possible.
Berwick representative Wendy Ross-Smith welcomed the permit proposal, but asked if it could be extended to take account of local circumstances.
She said: “Something unique to Berwick is that the bulk of our customers come from Scotland and an awful lot of Scottish people work in Berwick.
“We are fighting free parking in Scotland so how do we accommodate those people? Do we treat them as tourists or can we find a way where we can compromise and allow them to apply for residents’ permits if they live within 20 miles of Berwick?”
Coun Jackson said individual circumstances should be taken into account, but in any case the policy would still allow Berwick residents to claim permits and hourly parking charges should be dramatically reduced for non-permit holders.
Morpeth member Charles Sellers proposed that the various trade groups should support the plans to try to make progress on the scheme and put pressure on other politicians to back it, which was agreed unanimously.