Traders in Alnwick will be offering discounts and other incentives to try to take advantage of the free parking in the run-up to Christmas.
At last week’s full meeting of Northumberland County Council, an alliance of Labour and Tory members 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.
Alnwick Chamber of Trade (ACT) chairman Carlo Biagioni said: “It’s excellent for the town because it will attract people to the town. Every year it brings more people to the town to spend their money.
“But we are really still fighting for equality of parking across the county.”
While the late decision meant that ACT has no time to organise a proper event, traders are trying to offer something to shoppers to bring them into Alnwick.
Among these are Melvyn’s Cafe, which will give free top-ups on coffee and tea, mulled wine and mince pies at Proudlock’s House and Home at the weekend, selected discounts at toy shop Mojo and 25 per cent off the pick-and-mix menu at Carlo’s at lunchtimes.
And the vote caused considerable political fallout with the Lib Dem administration slamming Labour for voting with the Tories.
Coun Andrew Tebbutt, executive member for corporate services, said: “Now that the council has passed this policy, we will have to find £40,000 from somewhere within our budget to fund it. I’d be interested to know what Labour and the Conservatives would like to cut to pay for this.
“We have already brought in the Shoppers’ Permit, which costs £15 for two years and allows free parking in a number of council car parks for most of the day.
“I would urge drivers who haven’t already done so to look into this excellent-value scheme – unlike the poorly-judged gimmick voted through by the Conservatives and Labour, it is here all year round.”
But Coun Grant Davey, Labour group leader, said that his party don’t think it is fair that Coun Tebbutt’s Liberal council ‘soaks the local economies in market towns outside of the south east to the tune of £1.95million per year’.
Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, who put forward the motion, said: “It is hard to understand how the Lib Dems could be so ungenerous as to oppose this and so arrogant as to tell our traders and residents that they are wrong to want free parking. We have got free parking for one week in the year, now we need free parking for residents all year round.”
The free parking runs from Tuesday, December 18 until Christmas Eve in the following places in Alnwick: On-street – Bondgate Within, Clayport Street, Market Street, Pottergate. Off-street – Bondgate Hill Cobbles, Fenkle Street Cobbles, Greenwell Road, Roxbro Place, Dispensary Street, Pottergate New Row.