CALLS are being made to introduce free city-centre parking in the run-up to Christmas to help boost business.
Councillor Peter Wood has urged Sunderland City Council to shake-up the parking system to “reduce and simplify costs” for motorists visiting Sunderland.
He said the move would help fill the often empty car parks and attract more visitors to the city centre, increasing trade in tough economic times.
At a meeting of the full council, the Tory transport spokesman said parking should be free between 3pm and 6pm in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
He said that a flat rate for a day’s parking at more than 3,300 city centre, council-owned spaces should replace the current structure of varying prices.
Coun Wood said: “In my view, the problem is not too many car parking spaces, but too few people coming into the city centre.
“If we look at supermarket car parks, these are bustling. Parking there is, of course, free.
“Parking charges should be as low and as simple as possible. We have varying charges and it seems rather confusing and this deters use.
“I think we would find we would generate more revenue by charging something like one pound a day, something simple.
“I think we should be looking at something like free parking in the city centre in the run-up to Christmas.”
He added: “It is a desperate situation. You may argue we can’t afford cheaper parking in the city, but I would argue that we cannot afford not to.”
Responding to the motion, Coun James Blackburn argued the council carries out comprehensive reviews of parking annually to look the issue.
The portfolio holder for attractive and inclusive city said: “The council recognises the under use of car parks is an issue.”
Colleague, Coun Graeme Miller, said: “The council knows there is a problem with car parking. I wouldn’t want to label them opportunists, but the council reviews this every year.”
The call for action has been backed by the chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce, Gary Hutchinson.
He said: “I think we would be supportive of any initiative to drive more footfall to the city centre. If free or cheaper parking was a conduit to doing that, then I believe businesses and the local chamber of commerce would support that.”