CHRISTMAS comes early for Sunderland city centre shoppers with free parking in more than 2,000 council-run spaces.
The Free After 3 scheme – which sees drivers able to park free of charge after 3pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the run-up to Christmas – returns in time for tonight’s lights switch-on and runs until Thursday, January 2.
The scheme, which applies to council car parking at sites such as St Mary’s, Sunniside and the Civic Centre, will also continue on a Thursday from January.
Coun Michael Mordey, the city council’s portfolio holder for city services, said: “The council continually monitors all parking arrangements in the city centre and regularly looks at, and introduces, new schemes and incentives.
“The council has developed these parking measures in consultation with the Business Improvement District (Bid) and the City Centre Traders’ Association.”
Bid chief executive Ken Dunbar said: “It’s great to see free parking after three being introduced again this Christmas on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as this provides yet another reason for shoppers to come into the city to enjoy all it has to offer.
“It’s even better news to hear that this will continue in 2015 on Thursday evenings.”
Harry Collinson, chairman of the Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association, which represents more than 200 businesses, said: “As with last year’s scheme, the association has been speaking to the council on this issue of parking. We all understand how the council has to promote the city centre, promote public safety and highways, encourage and promote public transport, and also balance its books.
“We are seeing significant regeneration and investments works which are going to help the footfall into the city centre.
“Free After 3 is an opportunity to explore the offers and attractions the city centre has, whether it’s shopping or leisure, food and drink, or museums, exhibitions, and shows.
“People can help support businesses and traders by visiting the city centre.”
Meanwhile, opera star Graeme Danby heads the celebrations in the Bridges this evening as late-night shopping kicks off. The principal bass will perform with the University of Sunderland choir in the centre as part of a programme of evening entertainment running until 8pm every Thursday until December 4. The centre will be open from 9am to 8pm every weeknight from December 8.
Centre director Andy Bradley said: “Shoppers are increasingly choosing the convenience factor when it comes to Christmas and we’re making festive shopping even easier this year thanks to our late night opening hours.”
Parking at the Bridges will be free from 5.30pm to 9pm on Thursdays from tonight until December 4, and then from 5.30pm to 9pm Monday to Friday from December 8-23.