Parking charges in a Northumberland market town will be scrapped next year after councillors there became the first in the county to take up an authority’s offer.
Town councillors at Alnwick have agreed to remove charges in Northumberland County Council car parks from April on a 12-month trial.
It follows the county authority’s Labour leaders offering all Northumberland town and parish councils where charges are in place in car parks the chance to remove them.
Alnwick is the first to scrap charges but other towns and villages across the county are shortly to follow suit.
A businessman in Alnwick last night welcomed the decision and the likelihood of other communities following the town’s lead. Businesses in Northumberland’s market towns have complained for many years over the fairness of the current system, which involves charging in rural communities and free parking in major towns such as Ashington, Blyth, Bedlington and Cramlington.
Labour pledged before taking power in May to allow local communities to decide if they want to have parking fees or not.
Letters were sent to parish and town councils in June offering them the chance to produce community parking plans.
At Alnwick, a working group identified free but time-limited parking in council car parks as its preferred option, and began consultation. The chamber backed the proposal as did 94% of people responding to an online survey.
At its latest meeting, the town council agreed to implement the move from April 1, on a year-long trial basis.
Yesterday, representatives of Morpeth, Berwick and Hexham town councils told The Journal they are likely to follow suit. Consultation in Morpeth on a 12-month trial of free parking runs until the end of this month.
The Hexham council has held a meeting with stakeholders including 25 parish councils with a view to a year-long trial of free time limited parking, and is to meet the first week in November to make its decision.
Berwick arranged a public meeting last week at which attendees gave unanimous backing to a move towards free parking, which members are now to consider at their November meeting.
Last night Carlo Biagioni, chairman of the Alnwick and also the Northumberland Market Town chambers of trade, the latter covering Alnwick, Amble, Morpeth, Berwick and Hexham, said: “We have been fighting for the last three years on it and we are really welcoming it.
“They should have done this a couple of years ago. The south of the county was always free, the North of the county was always the biggest charger. Labour seems to be keeping their promises in their manifesto.
“They have seen the light. That is one positive for the market towns.”
A county council spokeswoman said yesterday: “Submission of the plans is expected in November however we received Alnwick Town Council’s yesterday. We will be considering them all once received.”
The council’s administration has revealed the authority’s IT budget will be one of the areas where it seeks to make up the revenue lost from parking.
Grant Davey, leader of the Labour group and the council, said: “Even though we face savage coalition cuts which will see every family in Northumberland lose £260 per year, we’ve costed our free parking offer and we’ve made it a priority.
“For example, we’ll seek to trim 5% from the IT budget.”