Northumberland towns cry foul over car parking charges
Towns in Northumberland where motorists have to pay for car parking are being urged to join forces in a campaign to end the county's "unfair" two-tier system of charging.
Drivers are charged to park when visiting rural communities such as Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth - but parking remains free in bigger towns such as Ashington, Blyth, Bedlington and Cramlington.
With a single council covering all of Northumberland, market town traders say a level playing field on parking fees is essential - particularly with all businesses being hit by the recession.
Now a campaign for a county-wide system of charges is being spearheaded by Morpeth Chamber of Trade, which plans to seek local evidence and support from town councils and other organisations in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth, Hexham, Haltwhistle and Prudhoe.
The chamber will then collate the data and use it to draw up a formal response to a major review of car parking, which is to be carried out by the Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall.
Anger erupted recently when it was revealed that free parking is to remain in Blyth Valley and Wansbeck, while some charges rise in the market towns.
Yesterday Morpeth chamber of trade chairman Stuart Lishman said members would be talking to town and parish councils affected by parking charges to seek their support for a county-wide policy.
"There has to be a level playing field on this, although councillors in south-east Northumberland are very much against bringing in charges. We realise we are not going to get free parking back but it has to be the same across the board, otherwise it is unfair. We will be gathering evidence and putting our case on the table as part of this review."
Mr Lishman said it was also hoped a system pioneered in Morpeth - where local council tax payers are allowed free parking for two hours in the morning and in late afternoon - would be introduced across the county.
Andrew Tebbutt, the county council's executive member for corporate services, said the terms of reference for the car parking review were currently being worked out, and it was hoped to use the findings in planning the 2010/11 budget.
"The question has to be asked, what is a level playing field? We can't just assume that people in Blyth have the same power to pay for parking as those in Morpeth, or that the issues are the same. I want the most comprehensive factors to be fed into this review, such as traffic management, shopping patterns and protecting the local economy.
"It is all about whether parking charges are beneficial to the local community as a whole, not just specific groups."
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