Gift of free parking turns into ‘chaos’

The week of free parking in Alnwick got off to a bad start on Tuesday, with a business leader describing it as ‘chaos’ in the town.

While vehicles are entitled to park free of charge in the majority of the town’s car parks until Christmas Eve, time limits are still in force to ensure a flow of traffic.

In previous years, the parking meters were covered with bin bags during the week of festive free parking, making it obvious to motorists that there were no charges, but this year the meters only have a notice on them explaining the details.

This led to a number of people still putting money into the machines, while others received tickets for outstaying the relevant time limit.

On Tuesday, Alnwick Chamber of Trade (ACT) chairman Carlo Biagioni, along with other members including Geoff Proudlock and Keith Nichols, went around placing notes on the meters closer to the coin slot, as well as in businesses, to remind people not to pay and of the time limits.

“The town is in chaos at the moment,” said Mr Biagioni.

“It was misleading to tell the people of Alnwick and Northumberland that there was free parking without emphasising the length of time was limited to the maximum car-park stay.

“I know it was in the small print at the bottom of the notice, but that should have been highlighted for all to see.

“Previously when there was free parking in Alnwick at this time of year, it was for unlimited time.”

However, Mr Biagioni did praise the county council’s civil enforcement officers , saying that he spoke to them and they had been very helpful about the issue.

At a full meeting earlier this month, members of Northumberland County Council voted 23 to 22 with one abstention to reinstate the tradition in Alnwick and Berwick and extend it to Morpeth, Hexham and Corbridge.

An alliance of Labour and Tory councillors outvoted the Lib-Dem administration to support Conservative leader Coun Peter Jackson’s motion.

The late decision left Alnwick’s traders unable to organise a major event, but a number are offering discounts and incentives to try to tempt shoppers into the town.

Yesterday, a county council spokeswoman said: “One of the reasons that we did not bag the machines is due to the fact that this could then cover up important information regarding the maximum stay of the parking place.

“The council’s motion clearly stated that enforcement of the time limits would still apply.

“We have therefore placed the signs on the front of each of the relevant machines so as not to cover any information that the user still needs to adhere to.

“We have a range of styles of machine and taking the same approach across all areas kept instructions simple.

“The council has a responsibility to ensure that all relevant information is available for the public.”

The free parking applies until Christmas Eve in the following places in Alnwick:

On-street – Bondgate Within, Clayport Street, Market Street, Pottergate.

Off-street – Bondgate Cobbles, Fenkle Street Cobbles, Greenwell Road, Roxbro Place, Dispensary Street, Pottergate New Row.