TOWN hall chiefs have been accused of dragging their feet in response to a new call for car parking charges to be scrapped across Northumberland.
Several thousand people in Berwick, Morpeth and Alnwick are said to have signed petitions demanding a level playing field on parking fees across the county.
Traders in the market towns have joined forces with the county council’s Labour group on the petition – which is said to have been signed by more than 3,000 people in Berwick alone.
It was submitted to the council several weeks ago, and now Labour leaders and local traders are pressing the authority to make urgent progress and hold a special meeting to debate the issue.
For many years there has been anger and frustration that motorists are charged to park in the rural towns, while it remains free in towns such as Blyth, Ashington, Bedlington and Cramlington.
The opposition Conservative and Labour groups on the county council have both pledged to get rid of charges if they are in a position of power following May’s elections.
Labour says it will phase out fees in consultation with local town councils, while the Tories have promised free parking for all Northumberland residents.
Labour claims the council has yet to process the thousands of signatures on its parking petition, which closed at the end of February, or arrange a date for a meeting of the petitions committee.
Berwick chamber of trade chairman John Haswell, also a leading member of the new Northumberland Market Towns Chamber of Trade, said he is disappointed by the county council’s response to the call for free parking.
“More than 3,000 signatures were gathered in Berwick alone, from some very angry people. The residents have spoken clearly and signed up to the petition, which closed on February 27. Because of the council’s failure to fulfil its obligations and convene a meeting, residents of Berwick and the other market town are still being bled dry in parking charges. More than four weeks have passed and we've not heard anything from the council.”
A Labour group spokesman said: “Thousands of people have taken the trouble to sign up, which shows the strength of feeling against this policy.”
In February, business leaders in Morpeth submitted a 660-name petition, and more than 60 letters, to the county council calling for an end to parking charges.
No-one at the county council was available for comment yesterday. Lib Dem council leaders have claimed scrapping parking charges cannot be afforded in the current tough financial climate. Instead they have introduced a special shoppers’ permit, which allows residents to park free at certain times.