An early Christmas present for drivers is on the way from an alliance of Labour and Tory councillors in Northumberland in the form of a week’s free parking in market towns.
Members this evening voted 23 to 22 with one abstention to support Conservative leader Coun Peter Jackson’s motion to reinstate the tradition at Alnwick and Berwick, and extend it to Morpeth, Hexham and Corbridge. The abstention was Hexham East Tory Coun Ingrid Brook.
The Liberal Democrat administration condemned the move as a stunt and predicted congestion. Executive member for finance Coun Andrew Tebbutt said that without tickets it could not be policed and people would park all day.
Time limits could not be enforced because that would require a formal consultation period.
Labour’s Coun Ian Swithenbank said half the county’s population had free parking all year and that was unfair to the rural areas. He wanted county-wide free parking, which would cost “a couple of million quid”. In hard times it would help drivers and businesses alike.
Lib Dem council leader Coun Jeff Reid said it was always a pleasure to listen to Ian Swithenbank, but it was “gesture politics, a cheap stunt and you should be ashamed of yourselves”.
Coun Reid added: “I look forward to the Northumberland Gazette having a go at me next week for being such a mean person.”
Coun Jackson said: “For years, shops in some of our market towns have struggled against an unfair parking regime. So if we want a strong and sustainable local retail economy, our council should take more responsibility to ease trading difficulties.”
He said there was evidence charging for parking distorted trade and drove shoppers away. The Mary Portas project had placed great weight on free parking.
It was estimated a free week before Christmas would cost the council £37,550. “Why are we being so Scrooge-like as a council to refuse that request from local communities?”