Council accused of making country pay for towns’ drivers

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NORTHUMBERLAND County Council chiefs have been accused of hiking up parking charges in rural towns such as Morpeth and Alnwick to cover the cost of allowing motorists in Ashington and Blyth to continue to park for free.

The claim was made by the council’s Conservative group leader, Peter Jackson, after council bosses approved £18m of cuts to local services on Monday.

As part of the full budget approved by the council in February, its executive has agreed to make £18.3m of savings on the likes of transport and neighbourhood services, with £4.7m of those cuts to come this financial year.

Tory councillors are objecting to cuts of £300,000 being made on public transport concessionary fares and £250,000 on community buildings.

They are also unhappy about plans to raise an extra £547,000 by making changes to the authority’s parking strategy, claiming it puts town above country.

Many of the cuts approved by the executive were discussed by the council’s economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee earlier in the day, and some, such as the parking strategy, will be discussed by committee members again before a final decision is made.

Coun Jackson, of Ponteland South, said: “This latest round of cuts is a further example of the Lib Dems favouring residents of urban south east Northumberland.

“The Lib Dem council tax freeze is now revealed as a hoax, with £847,790 worth of services forced onto parish councils, who must make up the difference by raising their precept.

“The decision to cut £350,000 from public transport, in addition to cuts to concessions for elderly people and schoolchildren, unfairly targets people in rural areas who rely on these services most.

“The decision to increase parking charges in Alnwick, Berwick, Hexham and Morpeth by £547,000 will further disadvantage rural residents who must drive to town in the absence of sufficient public transport.

“The future of many rural community halls is now threatened by a cut of £250,000.

“Once again, the council is using rural Northumberland as a cash cow to subsidise free parking and investment in Blyth and Ashington.

“When are we rural taxpayers going to start getting a fair deal?”

However, the council’s executive member for corporate resources, Andrew Tebbutt, claimed that councillors needed to face up to the realities of the budget.

“This is where the cuts we have been forced to implement over the last three years are beginning to bite, and there are impacts on services,” said Coun Tebbutt, of Morpeth Kirkhill.

“There are some very serious issues for all councillors to face over the next three years.”