NEW measures on car parking charges which aim to support struggling rural market towns in Northumberland have been branded a “damp squib” by opposition councillors.
The Journal revealed on Monday how Liberal Democrat leaders at County Hall are proposing a freeze on parking charges next year along with significant reductions in fees in Berwick and the scrapping of Sunday charges in Berwick, Alnwick and Hexham.
The moves – expected to be approved by executive members next week – involve the county council giving up additional planned income of £547,000 from the proposed raising and harmonisation of existing charges.
They are part of a new county-wide parking strategy and aim to bolster recession-hit rural market towns and help avoid any further damage to local businesses.
But yesterday the council’s opposition Conservative group described the proposals as “too little, too late”, and repeated its call for the introduction of free parking for all Northumberland residents.
Tory group leader Coun Peter Jackson, said: “Twice this year we have put a motion to council calling for free parking for residents across Northumberland.
“On both occasions the Lib Dems have voted to block free parking. The new proposals are a damp squib, as they maintain nearly all charges at their current level, while parking remains free in Ashington and Blyth.
“This is totally unfair, and it is unbelievable that it is being claimed as some sort of victory for our market towns, which continue to be used as a cash cow to support spending in south east Northumberland.
“A Conservative council will abolish parking charges for all residents of Northumberland.”
The package of measures includes reducing 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.
They 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.
Liberal Democrat council leader Coun Jeff Reid has said the proposals are further evidence that car parking charges are not about making money for the authority.
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 issue of car parking in different areas of Northumberland has been a political hot potato since the six former districts of the county were abolished and the issue was given over to the unitary county council.