Free parking after 2pm given the go-ahead across County Durham to boost business
Highways chiefs have approved the move, which will scrap charges for on and off street parking in town, city and village centres after 2pm from next month (April).
It is hoped the scheme, which will be reviewed every three months, will help entice visitors back to shops and other attractions as coronavirus restrictions are eased.
“Previously we’ve had to balance inclusivity, economy, availability of spaces and the need to promote sustainable travel,” said Carl Marshall cabinet member for economic regeneration at Durham County Council.
“However, demand for parking in our town centres remains low due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s unclear how this will change and how quickly demand will return to pre-pandemic levels.
“This approach will support access to our town centres by ensuring turnover of spaces for residents and visitors alike.”
Cllr Marshall was speaking at this morning’s (Wednesday, March 17) meeting of the county council’s ruling cabinet, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.
A report for councillors suggested parking levels across the county could reach 30 per cent of their normal level in April, rising to half by June and 70 per cent in August.
But roads chiefs have also admitted such predictions are currently ‘highly speculative’, with little indication of how the public will react to the easing of restrictions, or whether further measures will be needed in the future.
The council is expected to end the 2020/21 financial year having lost £1.4 million in potential car parking income.
While the agreement to scrap charges from 2pm in 2021/22 will affect council-run car parks in town and village centres however, it is not expected to be applied to places like Hardwick Park and Chester-le-Street Riverside, which have remained busy throughout the pandemic.
A similar proposal calling for parking fees to be cancelled entirely for the year was proposed by the opposition Conservative group last month (February 24), but rejected, prompting accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ over the latest move.
Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wilkes said: “Just a few weeks ago [the Labour group] refused to accept the need for free parking – it’s a shame that Labour didn’t support free parking then.