A LOCAL authority which has faced a sustained campaign to create “a level playing field” over high street parking charges looks set to reject the call and instead examine introducing smart parking.

Leading North Yorkshire County Council members and officers are expected to approve a proposal on Friday to investigate maintaining the current 30-minute free parking limit and launching a pay-per-minute smartphone system on Northallerton High Street.

The recommendation follows a review of the authority’s parking policy in the county town, which has been the focus of consistent criticism from traders since before high street parking charges were first introduced there in 2014 to cut town centre congestion.

Northallerton’s Business Improvement District (BID) company, which represents scores of traders on the high street, submitted a petition in February last year to extend free parking to two hours, saying there was evidence the number of shoppers had decreased due to the restrictions.

In response, the council agreed to review the potential for increasing the free parking time on the High Street north of Friarage Street, but the investigation was postponed until recently due to the pandemic.

Earlier this year the BID again called on the council to increase the concession, publishing an open letter to the council saying its members looked “with envy at neighbouring towns such as Darlington and Middlesbrough where free parking is now available for hours on end”.

A BID spokesman said: “We have petitioned for a level playing field on free parking with other North Yorkshire towns such as Thirsk, Bedale, Stokesley and Great Ayton because we are passionately committed to preserving the commercial health of Northallerton.”

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, Northallerton councillor David Blades said extending free parking would not resolve all the traffic issues affecting the town.

Cllr Blades said a relief road, possibly from Warlaby crossroads south-east of the town to Brompton, may help resolve some of the congestion issues, which become particularly severe when the A1 or A19 are closed.

He said: “You have got to look at the whole picture. We have got to keep the traffic moving. Some people are putting blinkers on and are only looking at their own situation.”

An officer’s report to the meeting states while the council recognised there has been a decline in the number of cars parking on the northern area of the High Street, the 30-minute free parking offer remained the most popular choice for visitors and Northallerton already benefited from a parking concession that was not in place elsewhere.

The report concludes increasing free parking time would also be inconsistent with the national, regional and local policy approach to encourage people to use more sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport.”

However, the report states the smart parking trial in Harrogate has provided a strong case for the introduction of a similar approach elsewhere and it could next be launched in Northallerton, following work “to understand requirements and timescales”.