TRADERS’ leaders have repeated their welcome for a Christmas free-parking concession in Northumberland market towns ... but say its implementation was mired in chaos and confusion.
A week’s free parking was agreed in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth and Hexham in the run-up to Christmas Day by the county council, in a bid to help boost high-street trade by attracting in more shoppers.
It was voted through despite opposition from the Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall, which warned the move would cause traffic and parking chaos at an already busy time for the towns concerned.
Now – following an official survey carried out by the council – traders’ leaders say the week’s suspension of charges was a good thing, but should have been much better managed by the authority.
In Alnwick and Berwick, the decision to suspend charges, while continuing to enforce time limits in car parks, is said to have caused widespread confusion among motorists, with many getting tickets from wardens for staying too long.
In Berwick, one shopkeeper went out and placed bags over ticket machines in the Castlegate car park to prevent people from paying, and later gaffer-taped over the coin slots on the machines.
In Alnwick, traders took it upon themselves to put notices on machines in a bid to explain the system more clearly to confused motorists.
The four towns enjoyed free parking for seven days from December 18, and the results of the council survey on its implementation will be reported to the scrutiny committee next week.
Yesterday John Haswell, chairman of Berwick chamber of trade, said: “The ticket machines were not covered over, despite people being told it was free parking, so some were still putting money in and others were getting tickets for parking too long. Many drivers were totally confused about whether it was free or not.
“What should have been a boost for the town was really a bit of a farce and it was poorly managed. The simplest thing would have been to cover the ticket machines for the week. We appreciated this generous offer by the council, but if it had been better managed it would have had more of an effect.”
Carlo Biagioni, who chairs Alnwick chamber of trade, said the first few hours of the free parking regime were “absolute chaos” because of confusion over the system.
“They had just put little notices on the machines telling people that they still had to stick to the waiting times, but they weren’t in your face and people were very confused.
“I blame the county council for not explaining the system properly, which led to some people still putting money in and others getting tickets. We welcome the week’s free parking, because it was successful and makes such a big difference to the high street, but I think this confusion shows that permanent, disc-controlled free parking is the best way forward for our market towns.”
John Beynon, who chairs Morpeth chamber of trade, said it was the first time his town had been given a week’s free parking at Christmas.
“Here the traders and the public loved it and everyone was talking about it and thought it was a great idea.
“Some members of the county council administration claimed it would cause havoc, but it didn’t, and everyone here was getting parked OK.”