ALIVE AFTER FIVE: Free evening parking in Newcastle could be axed
Dean Street multi-storey car park, Newcastle, Image: NCJ Media
Free evening parking in Newcastle city centre could soon be axed, it has emerged.
The Alive After Five initiative, which gives motorists charge-free access to seven popular city centre car parks after 5pm, is expected to be dropped at most of its current locations as council bosses try to put an end to “perverse incentives” for unnecessary car travel.
Such a move would be the latest push from Newcastle City Council to reduce traffic and improve air quality in the city centre, alongside a major £50m transformation that would see Grey Street and Blackett Street pedestrianised.
Alive After Five, first launched in 2010, runs in seven council-owned car parks, Eldon Square, Eldon Garden, Dean Street, Quayside Multi-Storey, Oxford Street, Manors, and Grainger Town Multi-Storey.
Introduced alongside later opening hours for city centre businesses, the scheme has been credited with boosting the Tyneside economy by hundreds of millions of pounds since its inception.
Stephen Patterson, chief executive of city centre business improvement district company NE1 Ltd, has now revealed that the council is set to axe the offer in some of those seven sites.
He has suggested that the changes would only apply to those council-run multi-storeys within a new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) due to launch in 2022 with daily fees for some high-polluting vehicles, though not private cars, coming into the city centre in a bid to reduce illegal emissions levels, a problem linked to more than 300 premature deaths on Tyneside each year.
Previously-released maps of the CAZ would suggest that the Quayside and Manors car parks fall outside that zone and therefore could stay free after 5pm, though the city council refused to confirm any details of which car parks will be affected or when the change might happen.
Mr Patterson said he hoped the reintroduction of parking fees would ultimately help and not hinder businesses and were just “one small part of the efforts that are being channelled into improving the city centre experience”.
He added: “Introducing car parking charges in the car parks in the heart of the city is not designed to reduce support for businesses, quite the contrary, this is about delivering a better experience and supporting the retail and business community to create the right environment for long-term growth.
“We support the council’s decision to refocus its efforts on reducing city centre pollution and while they will no longer be offering free car parking after 5pm in some of its city centre car parks, the charges will only apply to those car parks inside the air quality zone. Free car parking after 5pm will still be available in Newcastle in the council’s other city centre car parks. Only those within the air quality zone will be affected.
“Coming out of the pandemic we have seen major changes to retail and working patterns and we are all working hard to ensure that we emerge stronger and more fit for the future delivering a better and more sustainable experience in the city as a whole.”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service last week, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes confirmed that Alive After Five was under review and said the council had to be “consistent” in discouraging unnecessary car travel.
Coun Forbes said poor air quality was caused largely by rush hour rather than evening traffic, but added: “However, there is a wider issue about making sure we are consistent in encouraging people to use public transport wherever possible and that there are not perverse incentives for people to drive unnecessarily.
“We also have to balance that with the economic recovery and making sure that the city centre, where many of the retail and hospitality businesses have struggled, continue to feel supported as they continue to get back on their feet after Covid.
“We are reviewing Alive After Five as part of our normal budget processes and are looking long-term at how we balance the different competing interests to make sure we support the economy but at the same time ensure that public transport and walking and cycling is prioritised above car usage wherever possible.”
A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: “The city council is currently considering proposals for changes to some car parking charges in the city centre.
“A decision on whether to proceed with these proposals is expected to be confirmed soon. Any changes to car parking would be subject to consultation.”
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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