Free park plan must go further

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PLANS to extend a parking scheme which would allow residents to access town centre spaces for free for four hours a day ‘don’t go far enough’, according to traders.

Northumberland County Council is currently considering rolling out the shoppers’ permit to cover Alnwick, Berwick and Hexham, following a successful five-year run in Morpeth.

It would allow local people to park for free in the towns between 9am and 11am, plus 3pm to 5pm, although in Alnwick it would be restricted to off-street spaces at Greenwell Road, Dispensary Street and Roxburgh Place.

But Carlo Biagioni, chairman of Alnwick Chamber of Trade (Act) says campaigning will continue so long as the south east of the county continues to receive completely free parking.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but we need a lot more help than this,” he said. “We’re facing the toughest financial conditions for a generation, combined with increased competition from the internet and major supermarkets offering free deliveries.

“We’re particularly unhappy that this scheme won’t come into force until next May, which may be too late for many small local businesses. We need action now.

“What has really concerned us is that the proposed scheme does not include car parking on our main shopping streets, such as Bondgate Within, where most people go.

“I expanded my own business into Morpeth 10 weeks ago, but I can’t say that the scheme there has made much difference.”

He added: “We’re still going to push for equalisation across the county. What we would like to see is a free permit for all residents, allowing them to park whenever they want.

“It would still be subject to restrictions such as time limits, but it would be fair.”

Northumberland County Council estimates that the scheme will cost around £200,000 a year in ticket revenue, and a report will go before the scrutiny committee next week, outlining the proposals. Permits will cost £15, be limited to two per household and valid for two years.

But Mr Biagioni says the authority has ignored Act’s call for free parking on Sundays and bank holidays, as they will also fall under the proposed time limits.

The county council says on-street spaces in the towns are not covered by the scheme because they are at a premium.

The report says: “Assessments have concluded that the cost to the council of introducing a county-wide scheme could be in the region of £200,000 in lost parking revenue. The main risk is loss of income, and this has been considered by the working group. However, the economic benefits should outweigh the loss of parking income.”