PARKING charges could be introduced to south east Northumberland – but only for visitors.
The proposal has been put forward by Conservative county councillors in a bid to break the deadlock on the controversial issue.
A war of words has been raging for more than three years about the prospect of charging in towns such as Blyth, Cramlington, Ashington and Bedlington, with traders in the north and west of the county, where fees already apply, calling for a level playing field.
A move by the county’s Labour group for free parking to be introduced throughout Northumberland was blocked at County Hall in July after it failed to win the support of rival parties.
But now the Conservatives believe a free residents’ permit scheme could be a way forward.
Group leader Peter Jackson, pictured, said: “The argument needs to be how can Northumberland County Council realistically reduce the burden on residents and businesses?
“Our solution is a disc parking system which gives Northumberland residents free parking right across the whole county.”
Every household in the county would be eligible for two discs, each registered to a specific vehicle, for a one-off charge of £15. Additional fees would only apply if a resident changed vehicle and needed to register again.
The discs would then enable holders to park free in any council-run car park, subject to the time restrictions for each zone.
However, to meet the £1.2m costs of maintaining and managing the facilities, standard charges would be levied in car parks across the county for non-permit holders.
“There is a need to pay for the £1.2m cost of maintenance and management. That is why we are finding it difficult just to say we will have free parking everywhere, because it is not fair,” said Coun Jackson, of Ponteland.
“If there was no charging, then the council taxpayer would end up with the whole bill and that is not fair on non-drivers.”
Other proposals include free parking for all on Sundays and Bank Holidays, local consultation on time limits for car parks, fairness in charges so that similar car parks in different communities have the same hourly rate, and for charging to only cover the costs, not generate a profit.
All towns and villages with less than 200 spaces would be exempt from charges.
However, County Council Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt said the figures do not add up.
“The finances just don’t stack up. It basically is the Sheriff of Nottingham approach – rob the poor to fund the rich,” he said.
“Coun Jackson’s assertion that tourists and visitors would fund it wouldn’t make sense. Council tax payers will be subsidising car parking even more than they are now.”
The proposals were announced at an extraordinary meeting of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade on Monday.
Traders from Alnwick, Hexham and Berwick also attended and the ideas were backed unanimously.
Coun Jackson now plans to present them to an all-party working group at the council.