A DECISION to allow free Christmas parking in five rural Northumberland towns has descended into a chaotic mess which will only confuse motorists, it is claimed.
Last week county councillors voted for seven days’ free parking in the run-up to Christmas – starting next Tuesday – to help boost festive trade in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth, Hexham and Corbridge.
They approved a motion by Conservative group leader Peter Jackson to “reinstate the traditional week of free car parking in Berwick and Alnwick, and extend this to Morpeth, Hexham and Corbridge”.
A number of councillors believed they were voting for free parking across all spaces in the five towns, with some time restrictions.
However, now that details have emerged about how the concession will work in practice, it is clear there will be different arrangements in different towns.
In Alnwick, both on-street and off-street car parks will be free during the seven days.
In Berwick, Morpeth and Hexham, drivers will only be able to park free in off-street car parks.
Corbridge is getting no additional free parking at Christmas as its off-street spaces are already free and charging will continue in on-street bays next week.
Last night Hexham Liberal Democrat councillor Derek Kennedy, whose group opposed the motion and branded it a cheap stunt, said details showed it was selective free parking in the five towns.
“The Conservatives came to the council with a motion that said it was going to be free parking for a week in these five towns, and that was what was presented to us.
“Now we discover that Alnwick is getting a gold service; Berwick, Hexham and Morpeth are getting a silver service, and Corbridge actually gets nothing, other than what it already has.
“This should have all been dealt with a month ago so that we could have looked at it properly. Now we have got a mess, and I’m struggling to get clear answers from council officers on what we actually voted for last week. We certainly didn’t vote for three separate parking arrangements.
“The general public is going to find this message really chaotic, and very confusing. The fear in Hexham remains that this could damage the economy here.”
Haltwhistle resident Kevin Little, who raised the issue at this week’s west area committee of the council, said he believes most councillors didn’t realise what they were voting for last week.
“The Conservative motion was so ambiguous about where people would park free that the council has been left in this embarrassing situation. It’s like the Christmas panto season, and Peter Jackson has to take responsibility for that.”
Coun Jackson said yesterday he was happy with the arrangements for the free week, as set out by the council.
He said the intention of his motion was the continuation of what happened last Christmas in Berwick, Alnwick and Hexham, while Morpeth was being given a week’s free parking for the first time. He conceded that Corbridge will not benefit, but said it had been included in his motion to “publicise the fact that there is free off-street parking there.”
“It seems sensible to have free parking, but also to ensure that parking time limits can be enforced so that we don’t have traffic management problems. We didn’t want the situation to be unmanageable. In previous years this has been a great success,” he added.