‘Wriggling out of key pledges’

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The new county council is only a month old, but the political clashes keep on coming, with car parking taking centrestage this week.

The Liberal Democrats have slammed Labour for what they see as an attempt to duck responsibility for implementing a key manifesto pledge to introduce free parking countywide.

But Labour has hit back, saying that they are letting local communities have their say.

In a letter sent out to town and parish councils, Labour and council leader Grant Davey says that officers will work with them over the summer to develop a plan for their area.

He adds that he wants to keep his promise, but is aware of traffic management issues.

Lib Dem leader Jeff Reid said: “Labour have only been in minority control of the council for a month, and we are already seeing them shamelessly trying to wriggle out of keeping the promises on which they were elected.

“I and other Lib Dems did warn before the election that Labour’s promise to introduce free parking was an empty one.

“It’s very clever politics to devolve responsibility for parking policy to the town and parish councils.

“When the town and parish councils realise their precepts will have to rise massively to cover the cost of providing ‘free’ parking, they will not want to do it – and if they decide to do it anyway, people will not like their council tax being hiked.

“Either way, Labour can avoid being blamed for taking an unpopular decision.”

The Lib Dems estimate that scrapping parking charges across the county would cost up to £4million – offset in either cuts to services or adding an average of three per cent to council tax – but Labour described this as ‘fantasy politics’.

Coun Davey said: “The issue of car parking charges has been a controversial issue and we’re committed to making sure local communities have their say on parking charges.

“For the avoidance of doubt that means if Alnwick, Morpeth, Hexham and Berwick want free parking then we’ll make that happen, but communities must decide first.

“For too long, decisions have been taken in County Hall without regard for the wider county and we promised to give local communities more say over decisions like free parking and that’s what we’ll do.”