Parking policy hits Berwick shops

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FEARS have been raised that shoppers living north of the border will turn their backs on Berwick town centre because they can get free parking elsewhere.

Councillors are worried the tough new stance on illegal parking that is expected when Northumberland County Council takes over civil parking enforcement in April will hit trade.

And although the introduction of a county-wide shoppers’ permit in May has been welcomed in some quarters, concerns have been expressed that it is not available to those living across the border in Scotland.

Councillor John Robertson, speaking at a meeting of Berwick Town Council, said: “On the whole it’s of benefit that the shoppers’ permit is being introduced, especially for rural residents who use the town centre.

“Unfortunately though, it will not cover the majority of our users who live across the border and keep our town centre going.”

He was backed by Councillor Brian Douglas who said both the £15 shoppers’ permit and the £115 annual ticket would drive people away from the town centre.

“There are 40,000 residents in our catchment area but the majority come from the Scottish side of the border and that is contracting because Kelso and Dunbar are expanding with multiples and no parking charges.

“The reality is that more and more people coming to Berwick are parking on the periphery to use the out of town supermarkets, the retail park and the garden centre.

“We have got to find a way of increasing footfall in the town centre and I still favour the restoration of short stay parking on Marygate as the best way of doing that.”

However, Councillor Douglas admits he has had little support from the county executive for his petition calling for such a move which attracted more than 800 signatures in 2008.

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone grasping the seriousness of the situation we face,” he said.

“There are lots of different organisations having a say but I’m not sure they’re looking at it from our point of view.

“The county council made £963,000 from parking charges in Berwick last year out of £1.7m across the whole county so the bottom line is that we are generating the bulk of the council’s parking income but we’re not getting anything in return.

“You have to remember that the county council has to save more than £15m again this year so they are reluctant to give us anything because we are the goose that lays the golden egg.

“We are being milked harder than Guernsey cows.”

Councillor Peter Herdman spoke about the council’s failure to equalise parking charges across the county, with Berwick currently subject to the highest charges while free parking remains in the south east.

“I don’t know how the council can talk about equality and fairness while this system remains in place,” he argued.

“In spite of being a unitary authority we are paying the highest charges in the county.

“I don’t believe we should be paying parking charges that others are not.”

Councillor Robertson complained that the issue of short term parking on Marygate does not even get a mention in the proposed new Northumberland Parking Strategy.

The strategy proposes Sunday parking charges but Councillor Robertson felt it was a bad idea for Berwick and accused the county council of embarking on a revenue making exercise.