PROTESTERS from market towns across Northumberland turned up at County Hall yesterday to witness yet another U-turn in the council’s car parking policy saga.
A decision on whether Northumberland County Council’s strategy, which deals with issues such as parking charges and shoppers’ permits, will go ahead will now be made by the full council at a future meeting, despite the Executive already approving it at their own meeting.
Two weeks ago, the Executive alone approved the strategy and said that any future decisions would be made on a deferred basis by council officers in consultation with the Executive member for infrastructure and environment.
This decision was called in by members of the economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee as it was felt to be contrary to the council’s presumption of openness and they have now agreed to send the decision back to full council.
It was also proposed, as a ‘democratic safety valve’, that the strategy should be part of the budget policy and framework, which ensures it requires council approval.
In explaining why the decision was not sent to the full council in the first place, Coun Isabel Hunter, Executive member for infrastructure and environment, said that this was just the initial stage and that now further consultation will take place before the implementation of the strategy is decided by the full council.
She said: “The reason it was agreed by the Executive was so they could move on because the more important thing is the next stage.
“That would cover parking charges and timings of car parks and making sure we are getting the use of car parks correct.
“This is only the skeleton to allow us to go to the next stage.”
Committee member Coun David Woodard said: “We need to consult with the various towns on the various issues involved in parking and traffic management.
“Obviously under the consultation when the process is complete it has come to full council. I see, in the meantime, there is no advantage or need for the full council to be called on this subject.”
But other members felt that the issues needed to be discussed in full now.
Coun Peter Jackson said: “This is something that affects the public in their daily lives and people feel very strongly about it.
“We as councillors get held to account for it and that is why I think it is so important that it goes to full council.”
Coun Ian Swithenbank, ward member for Cramlington East, said: “To have it (parking) free for some and not for other is unsustainable in my opinion.”
He criticised the Executive for making the decision on car parking strategy alone and said: “It smacks of empire building and it smacks of taxation.”
The key issue of this meeting was calling in the decision by the Executive and sending it to the full council, but the strength of feeling on parking across the county ensured that opinions on the strategy itself were aired at the meeting.
Alnwick Chamber of Trade (Act) chairman Carlo Biagioni said: “Since the unitary county administration took over all of Northumberland county, we have read in the press many times two words – fairness and equality – and that’s all we are asking for here.
“Referring to the difficulties facing businesses today, he said: “We don’t need unfair parking charges on top of this. The members of Act are very angry at the way they are being treated by this council administration.
“We feel that forcing through a decision for political reasons is an absolute disgrace.
“Let us make it clear – our main aim is for equality and fairness for parking in the whole of Northumberland county and we won’t settle for anything less.”
He was joined in speaking out by Geoff Proudlock, speaking on behalf of Morpeth Chamber of Trade and also a member of Alnwick Chamber of Trade, and a representative of Hexham Business Forum.
And earlier in the meeting, Coun Swithenbank had also commented on the impact of rural businesses. He said: “This issue of parking could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”