COUNCILLORS have called for a new system of parking permits for tradespeople to be introduced quickly after hearing that the existing set-up is causing difficulties for small business owners.

Members of Darlington Borough Council’s place scrutiny committee heard the system, which requires tradespeople to ring the town hall to register for a £5 permit every time they stop in a restricted zone, is cumbersome and time-consuming.

Highways officers have pledged to bring in a new system, possibly a fixed-term permit attached to a vehicle registration number, by the summer.

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Steve Graham, a plumber who attended the meeting as a representative of other tradespeople in Darlington, urged the council to update the system as soon as possible, or risk forcing people out of business.

Mr Graham said he receives two or three parking tickets a week from traffic wardens because he has not been able to get through to the town hall for a permit or has not had time to call while dealing with an emergency.

He said: “It never used to be an issue - I used to ring up and be done in 30 seconds. But now, there are no staff to answer the phone and when they do, they have to go and get permission from someone else to give the permit.

“Answer me this, if you had water pouring through your ceiling or a suspected gas leak, would you want a plumber to come in and put it right or do you want them stood outside trying to get a parking permit?”

Highways officer Steve Petch said: “We recognise that tradespeople are having to phone up every day to get permits. We need to ensure that the system is not abused but we do need to make it more streamlined.

“It costs the council money for each permit we hand out, when tradesmen could just have a permit that lasts six or 12 months. We’re looking at having something up and running by the summer.”

Members agreed a registration system was a sensible solution.

Coun Bob Carson said: “We should be supporting a fairly rapid resolution of this.”