Car parking charges will be introduced along the County Durham coast in the spring. 

Visitors to sites in Seaham and Crimdon will have to pay up to £3 per day during their stay. 

The proposals attracted thousands of objections from the public, but the council voted through the changes on Tuesday. 

A Highways Committee meeting heard how Durham County Council is the only authority on the North East coast to currently offer free parking. That will soon change in April when the charges are enforced as part of plans to raise much-needed funds, manage usage and increase the turnover of spaces. 

The council said the coastal car parking areas within Seaham are often full and can lead to congestion, limited availability, and difficulties for both visitors and local businesses. It is hoped the charges will increase footfall in commercial areas such as Church Street. 

But among the 2,928 objections - around 98 per cent - one of the most pertinent concerns was the impact the charges will have on local businesses. People who responded included the local MP Grahame Morris, councillors and traders. Only 73 responses in favour of the charges were received. 

From April 1, visitors will be charged £1 per hour or £3 all day to park at the following sites: 

  • Seaham Hall Beach 
  • Vane Tempest
  • Terrace Green
  • Seaham Marina
  • Dock Top
  • Noses Point 
  • Crimdon Beach 

Charges will also be introduced on the eastern side of North Road. However, car parks around the town will remain free. 

The Northern Echo: Councillors Kevin Shaw and June Watson in November, campaigning against the introduction of parking chargesCouncillors Kevin Shaw and June Watson in November, campaigning against the introduction of parking charges (Image: County Durham Labour)

Councillor Kevin Shaw, of Dawdon ward which covers Seaham, labelled the charges “really disappointing” and suggested it is a backwards step for the town. 

He told the meeting: “Bringing in charges will deter visitors and will massively impact upon local businesses and residents. Seaham significantly relies on the visitor economy, as the town centre has struggled over a number of years, right the way back to the pit closures. Retail has failed to revive the town centre despite massive intervention. 

“Rather than going to nearby Roker and Seaburn, people go to Seaham because there aren't any parking charges.” 

Workers estimated that it could cost up to £1,000 to park a year, the meeting heard. 

And Cllr Shaw fears motorists will favour the free car parks around the town instead, causing problems for residents. And in questioning the overwhelming amount of public objections, he said:  “Why carry out these consultations if we’re just going to draw a line through it?” 

Cllr Shaw’s concerns were echoed by Cllr David McKenna, of Seaham ward.

He said: “This will put a stranglehold on our visitor economy. We’ve got no real night time economy at all, it’s all weekend and weather-permitting. It’s self-defeating and we’re going to lose businesses. Our biggest asset is free parking and we’re losing it.”

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The proposals were approved by a majority of councillors, however. Cllr Joanne Howey said the extra funding will help maintain the quality of the car parks.

She added: “A pound for an hour or £3 a day is less than a cup of coffee usually. Seaham is becoming a big destination town and we need to start pushing that forward and taking it seriously.”

And Cllr Douglas Oliver argued that there will still be a strong demand for the area’s tourist hotspots, including the bars, cafes and Blast Beach. 

“I don’t see demand for parking fees being elastic in a way that would cause problems for the town centre,” he added. “I think the proposal is reasonable.”