CAR parking policy in Northumberland has been wrested from the hands of the county council’s ruling Executive during an explosive meeting at County Hall.
Any changes to the controversial strategy, agreed in private by the authority’s Liberal Democrat leadership last month, will now be decided by a cross-party working group, following a motion by Alnwick councillor Gordon Castle last Wednesday.
Any changes the group proposes will be subject to scrutiny by committee and require the approval of the full council.
But, says Coun Castle, there’s nothing to stop the strategy being rewritten entirely if councillors see fit.
“My motion was to ask for the constitution to be amended to include car parking policy, to set the present policy aside and look at options for the future of parking,” he said.
“As a result, an all-party working group will be set up, which will be able to make any recommendations it wants to the full council. This should have been done years ago.
“The motion was backed by the Liberal Democrats, who have tried to snatch the only crumb of comfort in what has been a complete and utter fiasco.”
The new approach will see a case-by-case review of car parking charges at all county-operated sites, involving local consultation.
However, an amendment by Labour councillors to scrap all parking charges across the county was defeated, with council chief executive Steve Stewart warning members that it could leave the authority open to ‘serious legal challenges’.
Labour group leader Coun Grant Davey said the council spent several hundred million pounds a year and could afford the £1.6million cost of losing parking revenues.
But put to the vote, only 16 supported free parking, with 21 against. Conservative members abstained because they believed it would irresponsible to make such a major decision without knowing the full financial consequences.
Speaking after the debate, leader of the council, Jeff Reid, said: “Labour’s proposals for free parking everywhere would have led to traffic chaos in the more congested parts of the county.
“But we have not had any sensible suggestions from the Conservatives, who are using the issue of parking to set local communities against each other.
“The Conservatives say a one-size-fits-all policy for Northumberland will work and they had the chance to vote for that with Labour’s motion. The Conservatives were presented with an opportunity to get what they say what they want and yet they didn’t take it.
“They are playing to their supporters in the north and west of the county by stirring up resentment. It’s an act of supreme political cowardice to stir up public feelings and then totally fail to take any action backing up their empty words.
“We need to make sure we look at each car park in turn and get the balance right to control traffic flow and reduce congestion, making our towns and villages better places to live, work and visit.”