Free city centre parking throughout the week in the run up to Christmas would give Sunderland’s night time economy a boost say campaigners.
The Liberal Democrats have called for charges to be dropped to help shoppers, traders and evening businesses during the festive period.
They have launched a campaign urging Sunderland City Council to introduce free parking from 3pm every day in the run up to Christmas.
But city leaders, who have just announced an estimated £110million will have to be cut from its £663million budget under Government between now and 2020, have said money would need to be found for the plan.
It comes after The Bridges Shopping Centre announced that they will be opening until 8pm every week day from Monday, December 7, until Wednesday, December 23, and will offer free car parking from 5.30pm in its two car parks.
While the council offers free parking in its car parks and on-street parking bays on Thursdays after 3pm, the Lib Dems want that to be extended to seven days a week in the run up to Christmas so that all businesses, not just those in The Bridges shopping centre, can benefit.
We believe we have struck the right balance between the interests of city centre businesses and traders and the tax payer.Councillor Michael Mordey
Niall Hodson is the party’s campaigner for the Millfield Ward, which includes a large part of the city centre.
He said: “It is great to hear that the Bridges will be making it easier for shoppers by opening late and offering free parking during the busy Christmas period.
“But it shouldn’t just be The Bridges acting to help shoppers and the local economy. “Sunderland City Council need to do their bit too by offering free parking after 3pm every day during December, not just on Thursdays.
“Free parking after 3pm every day would benefit the large range of independent traders, small businesses, restaurants and cafes in Sunderland by attracting people to visit and to stay here for longer, making our city centre stay alive after 5pm.
“Newcastle Council offers free parking after 5pm and other councils such as Liverpool, Hull and Brighton have introduced free parking during December to compete with out of town shopping centres and to help small businesses and shoppers – it’s about time Sunderland City Council did the same.”
The Labour-led council has questioned how the idea could be funded.
Councillor Michael Mordey, cabinet for city services, said: “Again it seems the Mr Hodson in his rush to the press to promote his political ambition has failed yet again to grasp the full facts of the situation.
“The city council has all-year round free parking after 3pm on Thursdays – not just at Christmas. “This year, and as with previous years, from Thursday, November 12, until Sunday, January 2, parking is also free after 3pm on Friday and Saturdays.
“The St Mary’s and Sunniside multi-storeys have a £1.50 flat rate all-day Sundays and surface and on-street bays are free all-day Sunday.
“In his haste to grab a quick headline, Mr Hodson needs to be reminded that the city’s car parks do not run themselves. “Where would he find the money to pay for his plan?
“What would he cut to divert money to pay for his plan?
“This council has faced huge funding cuts in part due to Mr Hodson’s colleagues in Westminster who imposed massive cuts on Sunderland residents when they were in Government between 2010 and 2015.
“We believe we have struck the right balance between the interests of city centre businesses and traders and the tax payer.”