Accusations of politicising the issue were thrown around as councillors discussed the effects of the free week of parking in the run-up to Christmas.
A report to Northumberland County Council’s economic prosperity and strategic overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday morning looked at the impact of the week of free parking in the market towns.
While monitoring of car parks suggested that there was an increase in usage of five per cent in Alnwick, it is unclear whether this can be put down to free parking or the town being busier in the pre-Christmas period.
There was also discussion of reported confusion around the enforcement of time limits and the areas where the free parking applied, although council officers were praised for their work to prepare the scheme in a very short timescale.
Coun Glen Sanderson said: “Had it been agreed a month before and had we got the signage absolutely right, I think it would have been an enormous success.”
Members of the Alnwick, Morpeth and Berwick chambers of trade agreed, saying that the feedback from traders and the public had been positive.
Alnwick Chamber of Trade chairman Carlo Biagioni said: “Definitely in Alnwick it improved the footfall and for me, business increased at least 15 per cent because of the free parking.”
But Coun Paul Kelly said that the motion to bring in the week’s free parking was ‘not altruistic, but a political event’, with the result being a ‘very mixed outcome’ including an amount of ‘negativity’ directed towards the council.
“I don’t think the bringer of the motion expected it to go ahead,” he added. “We could have done without it. I don’t think it was a clever thing to do.”
He also suggested that traders needed least help at Christmas time and it should be looked at for a ‘slack point of the year’ when traders need the most help.
Chairman Coun Gordon Castle said there was nothing in the council chamber that wasn’t political, which council leader Jeff Reid described as ‘shocking’.
And Coun Colin Horncastle later accused Coun Kelly of politicising the issue, before saying that a small increase in people in town was of importance for traders, particularly at Christmas time when people tend to spend money on shopping rather than just having a coffee.
But Coun Anita Romer said that people were reading anything they wanted into the figures, saying that you would expect at least a five per cent increase in Alnwick before Christmas. She added that people were ignoring that it cost the county in revenue.