A Northumbrian Tale
How low can we go?
Let’s be honest there’s nothing like a good old moan is there?
South Shields has its fair share of moaners and ne’er-do-wells particularly when it comes to car parking, charges, visitors, and shopping, Jarrow of course is a safe haven for many in South Tyneside, but really are we beating a well worn path that leads to nowhere or are we justified in our protestations?
Yesterday the Curly family took a ride out into Northumberland for a little history and culture in the hope that it may provide some inspiration for “Junior” and “Missy”, learning something of how other councils treat their visitors can be an eye opener too and Northumberland County Council is not short of detractors! The 160 mile round trip took in stops at Alnwick, Berwick, and Lindisfarne Island with the first being an unplanned emergency toilet stop in the market town of Alnwick where I discovered that the local Morrisons supermarket did not have customer toilets and the £1 parking charge was only refunded after the purchase of £10 of produce, not the £5 limit that we have in South Shields. Furthermore after a hasty walk down to the market place we discovered that the public conveniences in Northumberland carry a 20p usage fee! Parking in charges in Berwick were £1.8o per hour and again the same 20p toilet ticket, so by time we’d taken lunch and made another natural relief visit I was already £5.40 out of pocket. On returning to the car I discovered that the Edinburgh family parked next to me were in a furious fighting mood having picked up a £60 fixed penalty notice because one of their tyres was more than six inches over the white line marking out the bay! I was pretty glad that I know how to park straight!
And so we returned south to visit Lindisfarne just in time to see the last of the sea retreating across the causeway leaving us almost as much time as we wanted to explore the island, charges at the visitor’s car park were £2.80 for up to three hours, which should be long enough for most people, so I happily filled the machine with more coins but blast it did not print a ticket! So I repeated the operation at another machine and took note of the minuscule telephone number and rang the County Council, alas the 0845 number rang and rang and rang! Another few pounds wasted and I’m now down by £11.00, and then to add insult to injury the kids got bored and Mrs. Curly was disappointed not to see any monks distilling the famed Lindisfarne Mead, not sure where she picked up that misconception, but we purchased a few bottles as gifts for the family. So after an hour and a half I reluctantly admitted that I have a family of Philistines lacking in any real education about the north-east and its cultural and religious history, perhaps its the education syllabus to blame, perhaps its the multi-religious approach of the schools, or more likely it was my own fault for not fully advising them in advance of what to expect. However, having to take a reluctant decision to leave after such a short time was pretty gnawing and I rightly or wrongly thought that once again my day had been marred by the British bureaucrats.
The important point about this Northumberland tale is that once you get away from South Tyneside you realise that our 1p a minute parking charges really are a reasonable amount to ask, the current charges at supermarkets are not “out of the box”, and we still have public conveniences that are clean, well maintained, and free! This does not negate the previous comments that I have made about a shoppers car parking scheme. Whether we think that these things are right or wrong is immaterial, the fact is that we are cheap, how low can we go? Perhaps too cheap, and perhaps, as the picture illustrates, higher charges will not necessarily put off visitors, oh if only Bede had been brought up as a skyetender and built a monastery next to the Roman Fort on the Lawe Top!
Northumberland County Council’s parking charges work out at roughly about £1 per hour, but after the first few hours the charges ramp up steeply, I’m not saying that they have the correct formula for retaining visitors and encouraging trade and they have managed on more than one occasion to upset the traders in Morpeth, but seriously here in South Tyneside we probably have gone as far as possible now in setting reasonable charging rates for car parking.
Another important point to note is if a place is worth visiting, if it has important historical artefacts, if it has a place in history, if it has something to entertain and amuse, it will attract visitors in droves without any real problems. Tourists do take a day out expecting to spend money!
Now, who bets that 25000 people would not have been willing to part with £10 to watch Joe McElderry?