RURAL market towns in Northumberland are set for a new year boost – with a freeze on parking charges across the board, significant reductions in one town and the scrapping of fees on Sundays.
County council leaders are proposing a new package of parking measures aimed at bolstering recession-hit town centres and helping to avoid any further damage to local businesses.
The package includes:
:: Dropping previously agreed plans to raise an additional £547,000 by raising parking charges in towns such as Alnwick, Morpeth and Hexham.
:: Reducing parking fees in Berwick, where historically motorists have faced higher charges than in other market towns.
:: Abolishing Sunday parking charges in Berwick, Alnwick and Hexham and allowing parking to remain free on Sundays in Morpeth.
If agreed by the council’s Liberal Democrat executive next week, the plans will result in charges in some Berwick car parks being slashed from £1.10p an hour to 60p, and from £2.40 for three hours to £1.50.
The moves follow discussions by executive members about proposals to save £547,000 over two years by raising and harmonising parking fees across the county.
They follow recent calls by Labour county councillors for parking fees to be scrapped in Northumberland, and by the Conservative group for parking to be free for all county residents.
Lib Dem bosses say axing charges completely is not sustainable but increasing them in towns such as Alnwick and Morpeth has the potential to damage local business as harsh economic times continue.
The reductions in Berwick – which affect the Castlegate, Quayside, Parade, Waugh Place, Woolmarket, Wallace Green, Coxons Lane and Foul Field car parks – will cost the council £162,000 a year in lost income.
Yesterday, Berwick chamber of trade chairman John Haswell said reduced fees and the axing of charges on Sundays would be great news for the town.
“This would be very welcome indeed in Berwick. We rely on tourism and visitors and the town is struggling, so any reduction in parking fees in these economic times is very welcome. We have the highest charges in the county and the council gets a lot of income from this area.”
County council leader Jeff Reid said: “We have taken the view that this is the action required to manage the service and traffic generally. It is further proof of what we have consistently said – that car parking charges are not about making money for the council. It is about coming up with something that actually works.”
A report to the executive says: “Harmonising the parking charges would require increases in some towns and decreases in others, notably Berwick.
“It is considered that to increase charges in some of Northumberland’s main market towns at this time would risk having an adverse impact on businesses and the economy.”
Charges will remain on Bank Holidays, other than on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The plans also involve increasing the cost of the county’s annual parking permit – which allows holders to park free in all council-owned car parks – from £110 to £130.