Fears for Berwick town centre if parking spaces are lost

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Councillors have raised concerns about the potential loss of parking spaces in Berwick town centre.

Planning permission for use of the rear end of the Castlegate car park is set to expire next summer and Historic England has previously expressed major concerns about its continued use due to its proximity to the Elizabethan Walls.

Berwick Town Council has warned that struggling retailers in the town centre will be hard hit if motorists are no longer allowed to use the grasscrete section of the car park from August 2023.

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It is calling for Northumberland County Council to enter into urgent discussions with Historic England and, if necessary, put alternative parking plans in place.

Castlegate overflow car park in Berwick.Castlegate overflow car park in Berwick.
Castlegate overflow car park in Berwick.

Cllr Robert Bruce said: “Northumberland County Council know the problem we have got in the town and yet we seem to be no further forward.

"We continue to have the same problem in having to use this heritage land which Historic England detest us using. This has been on-going since 2010 and still nothing has happened."

He favoured a park and ride system which, it is understood, is still under consideration.

"We don’t want any more cars in the town centre,” he said.

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However, Cllr Mike Greener doubted such a system could be implemented in time and pointed out there were still many questions unanswered about where it might be located and how it would work.

Others favoured further development of the Castlegate car park despite the likely difficulties of getting consent for works next to a scheduled ancient monument.

"I don’t see a problem in extending it,” said Cllr Graham Brown. “I would suggest it’s made permanent.

“I think the introduction of park and ride would be quite a risk to the town centre and might have the same effect that the new retail park is going to have in that people who used to come into Berwick probably now won’t.

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"I think we have got to do everything we can to try and protect the town centre and, to me, creating additional car parking spaces on a permanent basis would help to do that.”

He also pointed out that the proposed redevelopment of The Maltings theatre would also lead to a reduction in parking spaces on Eastern Lane.

Cllr Janice Bowden said: “If we wait for any other authority to do something it’s not going to happen. We have to make our views very clear.”

She felt the grasscrete section could be surfaced.

"If there is any heritage under the ground it will be protected,” she said.

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"We need parking spaces because if we don’t have them the town is going to be dead.”

Cllr Thomas Stewart said a vision for the town was needed but admitted that the issue was a matter of urgency.

"We need to do something now and kick the county council up the backside. Historic England, in the last planning application two years ago were very specific that they were giving an extension to give time for a proper assessment to be carried out on the whole issue of parking in Berwick. That, as far as I am aware, hasn’t been done.”

Town clerk Gareth Davies explained there had always been a conflict in Berwick between the need to preserve the town’s historic fabric while allowing economic development.

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"Berwick would not have been able to develop – and its decline as a retail destination would have been faster and harder – if it had not had that amount of car parking space available,” he said.

"Berwick has around national averages of retail vacancies at the moment. If we didn’t have that car park bringing so many visitors in during the summer the retail vacancy rate, in my estimation, would be a lot higher.

"That’s just a function of the way in which people’s expectation of being able to drive to shops has changed.”