Friday, 10 December 2010

It's not going to flood....

We are experiencing a fairly rapid thaw of the snow in the Wansbeck catchment. Apparently it's nothing to worry about, though.

The last time there was a flood in Morpeth because of snow melt was in March 1963. Then there was twice as much snow, it melted over 2 to 3 days and it was accompanied by heavy rain. And the ground was frozen so it couldn't soak up any of the melt.

Today there is only the equivalent of 3" of rain held in the snow, there is no rain forecast and it will probably take 2-3 days at these temperatures for a total melt (we are in December, not March, so the average temperature is a lot lower).

75mm of rain over 3 days equates to approximately 1mm/hr. We are told that the Wansbeck can cope with more than 4mm/hr before there is any worry of possible flooding - even before the flood alleviation measures are built. For it to flood ALL the snow would have to melt within 15 hours and enter the river!

I'm told that the river level may rise a foot or so, but that is all.

Watching the water level....

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Fair for All or Free for All?

Thought I’d better put in my two penn’orth on the Council’s car parking strategy as the consultation comes to an end:

The Morpeth Herald campaign – like all press-run, yes-no, petition-led campaigns – does oversimplify things, but the principle that car parking should be charged for is basically correct.
On the other hand, the Council needs to be more careful about why it is charging for car parking: from my fading memories of Castle Morpeth BC, I recall that if charges are simply to raise revenue, they are liable to VAT (20% from next month), but they aren’t liable of they are part of a comprehensive traffic management strategy. And, if it is revenue raising, they do need to recognise they are in competition with free private sector car parking in Cramlington, Ponteland and elsewhere.

I put forward a compromise position – that all county-run car parks in Northumberland should by liable to charging, but some could be ‘zero-rated’ – for inclusion in the Morpeth TC response, but my fellow councillors didn’t appreciate the subtlety of the position.

Then again – the pattern of shopping imposed on us by supermarkets and malls almost requires the use of a car. Which is why you have people living within 20min of Morpeth town centre driving in to do their shopping. A car parking strategy which – integrated with other planning and transport strategies – tried to modify this would certainly get my support.

The Chamber of Trade continue to get way with their classic 1984 ‘doublethink’ arguments: i) car park charging in Morpeth is keeping people away and ii) there is not enough car parking provision in Morpeth to cater for all the shoppers. The end result is that Morpeth has a reputation as ‘the town with car parking charges’ when Hexham, Alnwick, Corbridge etc have equal or greater charges – not to mention Newcastle.

Given that the RAC reckons it costs average £113 a week to run a car, 50p an hour or £2 a day doesn’t seem an awful lot extra, even if you don’t get a permit. So – it must be the principle not the amount, or the inconvenience – and the time restrictions. I guess people don’t idly browse or take a leisurely coffee if they are limited to ‘two hours on the meter’.

But – on a third hand (?): car parks in town centres are very valuable properties, and a hard-strapped Council has a responsibility to maximise the return on their assets. Car park charges generating anything less than a reasonable return on the asset value of the site – let alone free car parking - are effectively a Council subsidy for car users. Council tax from non-car users, who are generally less well off than car users (especially if they are paying full fare on public transport!), is subsidising car users.

I am looking forward to the introduction of civil enforcement of on-street parking – ie car park attendants rather than traffic wardens giving out parking tickets – which goes with the strategy, though.