'Parking injustice must not happen' Traders and residents send a message to the council.
TRADERS and residents in a Northumberland market town have sent a clear message to council chiefs they want action taken over the "injustice" of the county's two-tier system of parking charges.
Campaigners in Morpeth voiced fresh anger yesterday over the failure of a major new strategy document on car parking to address the controversial issue of who should pay charges.
And following a lively public meeting held in the town on Monday night, traders admitted they are far from optimistic about the prospects of achieving a level playing field across the county. Yesterday they claimed it is "absolutely ludicrous" that 15 frequently-asked questions set out in the county council consultation parking document don't include any question on whether parking should remain free in south east Northumberland.
Almost 60 people attended the meeting in Morpeth Town Hall, part of a 12-week public consultation exercise on the draft strategy.
Local traders have been campaigning for two years for the unitary authority to extend charges - which are levied in Morpeth, Alnwick, Hexham, Berwick and other rural towns - to communities like Blyth, Ashington and Cramlington, in the interests of fairness.
There was anger and frustration on Monday night over the fact that the draft county-wide parking strategy doesn't address the issue. Decisions on whether to introduce new charges - or other measures such as time limits or disc controls - will be taken following discussions at a more local level.
Andrew Tebbutt, the council's executive member for corporate resources, bowed to audience pressure on Monday to answer questions about charges, after initially saying the meeting was not about that.
Yesterday Charles Robinson, who chairs the car parking sub-committee of Morpeth chamber of trade, said: "The county council will take back that there is a very strong feeling in Morpeth, from traders and members of the public, that there is an injustice here that has to be put right. It is a great disappointment and frustration to us that the council has decided to have such a lengthy consultation document and exercise on parking without mentioning what their proposals are for paying for parking. "The council didn't notify the chamber or the Castle Morpeth Business Forum about last night's meeting.
"They did everything possible not to tell people about it, but there was a fantastic turnout which kills the myth that Morpeth people don't care about charges. There was a lot of concern voiced last night that there are no proposals to introduce charges in south east Northumberland. People are asking why should the burden of parking revenue rest only on the north and west of the county." The Morpeth meeting was one of seven to be held as part of the consultation, which ends on December 17.
A county council spokesman said: "This strategy consultation is not about how much the council charges for car parking. It is about setting up a fair and consistent way for effective management of car parks and traffic.
"Charges for car parks need to be taken into account as part of the overall council budget setting process."
MESSAGE Charles Robinson from Morpeth chamber of trade