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Saturday, 30 May 2015

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Hexham: You’re out! Workers face car park exile

PEOPLE who work in Hexham town centre could be hounded out of the town’s Wentworth car park to make way for tourists and shoppers.

That’s one of the options being considered by Hexham Town Council as the town struggles to come to terms with the impact of free parking in April.

A survey into the usage of the car park early in July showed that the Wentworth was full by 9.30am, with drivers circling the car park in a desperate search for a parking place.

The survey indicated that the free parking system is not working, and drastic changes were necessary.

Some town centre retailers felt footfall in the town had declined since the introduction of free parking – to the point of threatening the viability of some businesses.

Customers were arriving late for appointments at hairdressers, opticians, and specialist shops because they were searching for somewhere to park.

Other regular customers were giving up the search for parking and either going elsewhere or going home.

Some felt the combination of free parking and all-day parking was the cause of significant blockages and much reduced parking turnover in the Wentworth car park.

Town councillors are now being asked: “The town council must decide what it sees as the true purpose of Hexham’s principal car park, and the all-day free zone within it.

“Should this be almost exclusively a car park for local workers, or should it serve the town more widely, giving local and regional residents and visitors from further afield convenient and easily identified parking that gives access to the town centre and its retail and heritage opportunities?

“Can parking be made available elsewhere for workers?

“Can this be achieved by regulation (e.g. time limits, delineated all-day parking elsewhere), by the re-introduction of graduated charges, or by a combination of these – a free period followed by high charge for five plus hours?”

The so-far secret report following the survey is now in the Courant’s hands, and reveals that what was supposed to be a two-hour study had to be curtailed after 90 minutes because the car park was already overflowing by 9.30am.

Starting at 8am, five members of the council’s built environment and transport working group surveyed a total of 140 people as they parked their cars on a Tuesday morning.

When the survey started, there were already 34 cars parked in the south-east corner of the car park, probably owned by people who had parked in Wentworth before catching the train to work in Newcastle.

After that, 92 of the 94 people spoken to between 8-9am after using the all-day free zone were on their way to work.

The report said: “Over half the people interviewed claimed to have parked in the Wentworth car park prior to the introduction of free all-day parking.

“Many had purchased a parking permit from the county council – some adding because this was less expensive than a NHS permit.)

“Others had previously parked on street, in Loosing Hill car park, or at the hospital, with smaller numbers of others saying they had previously parked at Tyne Green, at the M&S car park, at Tesco, or had preferred to walk to work.”

Some of the all-day parking workers expressed their satisfaction with the county parking permits – their price and the access they provided.

Many people who previously paid for annual permits would be happy to do so again to guarantee a space.

Time limited free parking in the town centre streets and in the Market Place was considered an advantage to town centre retail, although footfall was still felt to have diminished.

Although ultimate jurisdiction of car parking lies with Northumberland Town Council, policies on where to impose charges has been effectively delegated to town and parish councils.

While Hexham Town Council agreed to lift charges, some parish councils in tourism hot spots, such as Corbridge, voted to retain charges as a means to manage traffic and ease congestion.