TRADERS in a market town have stepped up their long-running campaign for free car parking amid claims that momentum is building to finally secure a fair deal across Northumberland.
Business leaders in Morpeth have sent a 660-name petition and more than 60 letters to the county council in support of growing calls to end parking fees in the county.
The letters have been submitted by businesses in the town’s flagship Sanderson Arcade shopping centre, which have been asking their customers to sign the petition.
They have been handed over by Morpeth chamber of trade and managers at the shopping centre as pressure continues to grow for a county-wide level playing field on parking charges.
Last week it was revealed that traders in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth, Hexham and Amble have joined forces to set up the Northumberland Market Towns’ Chamber of Trade.
The move resurrects a county-wide chamber last in existence more than 20 years ago and aims to create a more effective lobbying group on the issue of car parking charges.
There is 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.
The petition and letters gathered at Sanderson Arcade are part of the market towns’ continuing campaign to secure a fair deal for all.
Yesterday Morpeth chamber of trade chairman John Beynon said: “This is a phenomenal response and shows the increasing strength of feeling about the total inequality of car parking charges levied by our county council.
“A fair parking policy, that covers all of our county, is one of the central aims of the new Northumberland Market Towns’ Chamber of Trade. We are urging all three main political parties to take on board the weight of public opinion as they prepare their manifestos for the May elections.”
Medi Parry, manager at Sanderson Arcade, said the response from shoppers and businesses clearly showed the growing support for county-wide free parking.
The county’s Tory group has pledged to introduce free parking for all Northumberland residents. Labour supports the principle of letting local parish and town councils decide whether free parking is appropriate for their area.
Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “The current parking policy is effectively a stealth tax levied on some communities, not others. The council’s own parking policy says it should be decided at a local level, but that seems to have been ignored. The Liberal Democrat administration needs to listen to the thousands of people who have backed our calls for free parking to kick-start the economy.”
Lib Dem council leaders say 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 between 9am and 11am and 3pm and 5pm daily.