Friday, 7 December 2012

Labour councillor Ian Swithenbank said because his group supported free parking across Northumberland all year round, it had decided to support the Tory motion.

Five Northumberland market towns to get a week’s free Christmas parking
  • by David Black, The Journal
Car Parking in Morpeth
FIVE rural towns are to get an early Christmas present in the form of a week’s free car parking – despite warnings that it could be more of a curse than a blessing.
Shoppers and traders in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth, Hexham and Corbridge will have seven days free parking in the run-up to December 25, after county councillors voted 23-22 in favour of the move.
The decision – which came after Labour councillors supported a Conservative motion calling for the festive concession – means charges will be suspended in the market towns from Tuesday, December 18.
Conservatives say it will provide an immediate boost for shopkeepers and businesses during one their most important trading periods of the year.
However, they and Labour have been accused of “gesture politics” and “crass populism”, and there were claims yesterday the decision will result in a parking free-for-all and traffic chaos.
There are fears that enforcement of time limits in car parks will be virtually impossible without motorists having to buy and display tickets – with the result that workers in the five towns will take advantage to park all day free of charge, and clog up spaces meant for shoppers and visitors.
Yesterday, Lib Dem executive member Andrew Tebbutt said: “I have no idea how we will police this. We simply don’t have the resources on the ground to write down every car number when it parks and check it two or three hours later, so we don’t think enforcement can take place.

“We will have to look at what, if anything, we can do to enforce the parking time limits, but the reality is there will be a parking free-for-all.”
Council leader Jeff Reid described the decision as “gesture politics and a cheap shot,” while Independent, Paul Kelly, branded it “crass populism at odds with agreed council policy.”
Yesterday, Tory group leader Peter Jackson, who put forward the motion, described the claims of traffic chaos as “total bunkum.”
He said a week’s free parking would only cost the authority £37,500 in lost income, and he could not understand why the administration was being so “Scrooge-like.”
“The council will make it clear that there are no parking charges in these five market towns for seven days from December 18, but it will also be made clear that existing time limits in the car park still apply, and will be strictly enforced by our wardens.
“If there is any congestion caused as a result of this, it will only be because more people are being attracted into these towns, and not put off by parking charges.
“Local traders support a week’s free parking in the run-up to Christmas, which I believe is a critical time for these towns. If they don’t maximise that week in terms of business, with parking charges putting people off coming, it will damage them for the rest of the year.”
Labour councillor Ian Swithenbank said because his group supported free parking across Northumberland all year round, it had decided to support the Tory motion.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Free parking in Northumberland for Christmas run-up - Lib Dems defeated in vote

Northumberland Gazette
Published on Wednesday 5 December 2012 21:44
An early Christmas present for drivers is on the way from an alliance of Labour and Tory councillors in Northumberland in the form of a week’s free parking in market towns.

Members this evening voted 23 to 22 with one abstention to support Conservative leader Coun Peter Jackson’s motion to reinstate the tradition at Alnwick and Berwick, and extend it to Morpeth, Hexham and Corbridge. The abstention was Hexham East Tory Coun Ingrid Brook.
The Liberal Democrat administration condemned the move as a stunt and predicted congestion. Executive member for finance Coun Andrew Tebbutt said that without tickets it could not be policed and people would park all day.
Time limits could not be enforced because that would require a formal consultation period.
Labour’s Coun Ian Swithenbank said half the county’s population had free parking all year and that was unfair to the rural areas. He wanted county-wide free parking, which would cost “a couple of million quid”. In hard times it would help drivers and businesses alike.
Lib Dem council leader Coun Jeff Reid said it was always a pleasure to listen to Ian Swithenbank, but it was “gesture politics, a cheap stunt and you should be ashamed of yourselves”.
Coun Reid added: “I look forward to the Northumberland Gazette having a go at me next week for being such a mean person.”
Coun Jackson said: “For years, shops in some of our market towns have struggled against an unfair parking regime. So if we want a strong and sustainable local retail economy, our council should take more responsibility to ease trading difficulties.”
He said there was evidence charging for parking distorted trade and drove shoppers away. The Mary Portas project had placed great weight on free parking.
It was estimated a free week before Christmas would cost the council £37,550. “Why are we being so Scrooge-like as a council to refuse that request from local communities?”
Lib Dem council leader Coun Jeff Reid said it was always a pleasure to listen to Ian Swithenbank, but it was “gesture politics, a cheap stunt and you should be ashamed of yourselves”.
Coun Reid added: “I look foreward to the Northumberland Gazette having a go at me next week for being such a mean person.”
Coun Jackson said: “For years, shops in some of our market towns have struggled against an unfair parking regime. So if we want a strong and sustainable local retail economy, our council should take more responsibility to ease trading difficulties.”
He said there was evidence charging for parking distorted trade and drove shoppers away. The Mary Portas project had placed great weight on free parking.
It was estimated a free week before Christmas would cost the council £37,550. “Why are we being so Scrooge-like as a council to refuse that request from local communities?”

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Northumberland County Council’s ruling Liberal Democrat are being warned that they face an ‘unprecedented squeeze’ on council budgets after Labour group leader Grant Davey unveiled figures that show the introduction of the coalition welfare changes in April 2013 could mean a ‘shortfall in council rent of over £1m’*.

Press Release
Warning to council on ‘hidden cost’ of Bedroom Tax
Estimates show council could be ‘millions’ worse off after controversial rule change

Northumberland County Council’s ruling Liberal Democrat are being warned that they face an ‘unprecedented squeeze’ on council budgets after Labour group leader Grant Davey unveiled figures that show the introduction of the coalition welfare changes in April 2013 could mean a ‘shortfall in council rent of over £1m’*.

Research by the Labour party in Northumberland shows that the most recent figures reveal that the council is paid £8,427,423 of rent income direct to the council but changes due to be introduced in April 2013 mean that rent will no longer be paid direct to the Council incurring an increase collection cost of £50,156.
The government has conducted 6 pilot programmes across the country to measure the impact of ‘direct payment’ and while the DWP have refused to give definitive figures of default on monthly rent payments, they did confirm that average defaults were ‘in the low teens’**.
A 13% default rate in Northumberland would mean the council would need to find over £1m to cover the shortfall.
Labour group leader Grant Davey who has called for Liberal leader of the council Jeff Reid to make a statement on the council’s preparedness for the changes in April 2013 said
‘First we’ve had Liberal cabinet member Tom Brechany deny that some people may lose housing benefit in the county because of the government welfare changes, then the Liberals denied there was a ‘growing housing problem’ in the county despite the independent National Housing Association confirming the council’s record waiting list ‘was a potential housing time bomb’*** and now these figures show the council may have to find a further £1m to cover potential defaults after the introduction of Universal Credit in 2013. It’s time the Liberals got to grips with this issue and it’s time that Jeff Reid showed some real leadership. We’ll be pushing him to release the facts on the true impact of the Universal Credit changes in the county’.

End
* Agenda Item: 4.5 - IMPACT OF WELFARE REFORM - Report by Allan Hepple Director of Neighbourhood Services
** BBC website – Mark Easton http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20459252
*** - Berwick Advertiser New report warns of ‘housing timebomb’
Published on Sunday 2 December 2012 10:00 – NHA Home Truths: North East 2012

A recipe for car parking chaos’ claim Labour

Press Release

‘A recipe for car parking chaos’ claim Labour
Latest Tory motion – ill judged, too late and not enough

A Tory motion due to be debated at Northumberland County Hall on Wednesday has been described as ‘ill-judged, too late and not thought out’ after it emerged the motion was ‘unsustainable’. Labour and Liberal Democrats have both questioned the complicated formula out lined by Tory group leader Peter Jackson which sought to rely on savings from council buildings which had already been sold.

The Motion was described as ‘an exercise in spin over substance’ as it proposed to ‘suspend car parking charges’ in defined areas across Northumberland even though the Liberal Council was ‘unilaterally’ dispensing with charges in places like Hexham which will see charges dropped on a Sunday. The council has come under fire for suspending charges on Sunday’s when the town is at its quietest and for continuing to use patrolling wardens even though charges have been dropped.

Labour has previously drawn attention to its own motion tabled over one year ago which would have given the powers to grant free parking to town and parish council’s across the county. Labour have insisted the motion was fully costed and it now forms a plank of its election manifesto in 2013.

Labour group leader Grant Davey said

‘The current council policy on car parking charges across the county is a shambles. A new policy seems to be announced every week. Into this confusion comes this Tory motion which is not costed, clearly opportunistic and lasts only four weeks. Both Liberal and Tory parties voted against our motion last year and we’ll be voting against this motion because it fails two key tests. Firstly, it doesn’t take into account local feeling, we happen to think that local town and parishes are best placed to tell us if free car parking will benefit their towns and shopping areas. Secondly, this motion only sets out effective policy for the Christmas period. We think this is a major issue all year round and we should be supporting businesses throughout the year. After all, business support should be all year round, not just for Christmas’.

End