Guest Post by Cllr Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives - the official opposition to Labour on Northumberland County Council. You can follow Peter on twitter @cllrpjackson
A key commitment from Northumberland Conservatives in the recent County Council elections was for free car parking for all residents of Northumberland and a fair system to be introduced across the County. This pledge had the support of the Chambers of Trade in our market towns and we welcomed the new Labour administration's willingness to adopt the conservative idea of free parking.
However we are concerned that the process that the Council has started for the introduction of free car parking is complex and risks failing. The Chambers of Trade and Town Councillors are telling us that there are strings attached to offer of free car parking from County Hall and that it is clear that there will not be a fair and equitable treatment of all areas of the County. We could be facing a situation in which there is no consistent free parking policy across the county.
There should be no delay in bringing in a simple "time disc" system which is used in many other parts of the country. The need is for a county wide "time disc" to be introduced without any further delay. Congestion and the availability of parking spaces should be controlled by the strict policing of the time periods that apply to each particular car park. A thorough review of these time periods in each town has just recently taken place and these time periods can be monitored for their effectiveness once free parking comes in. The parking studies have been done and there is no need to duplicate this work.
The case for free car parking has been there for years. Not only is the current system unfair, as there is charging in some towns whilst towns such as Blyth and Ashington get off scot free and so this is a form of double taxation on rural communities. But also studies such as the Mary Portas review have shown that charging for car parking is one of the factors which is contributing to the decline of our high streets.
While Labour are right to follow the lead that we have taken, they need to stop delaying and to start delivering. There is a suspicion that they could well be rowing back on their promises. The residents and businesses of Hexham, as well as Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth have been waiting too long for a fair deal.