- 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.