A North East council is proposing to introduce free town centre parking after 2pm as part of a package of measures to support residents and businesses in the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Durham County Council’s Cabinet will next week be recommended to agree that parking in all the authority’s on and off-street facilities in town centres be free after 2pm seven days a week, from April until the end of the year.
The proposal, which goes before the meeting on Wednesday March 17, seeks to support the economy of County Durham in recovering from the pandemic while also helping residents in recognition of how tough the last year has been.
A report to the meeting sets out how the national and regional lockdown restrictions necessary to keep people safe from the virus have impacted on retail, leisure and hospitality and led to the cancellation of events. In turn this has impacted on trade and footfall in communities across the county.
The proposal is in addition to wider investments such as the County Durham Business Recovery Grants scheme, which is providing investment to help firms affected by the pandemic. The council has also administered the allocation of government funding to companies – processing applications for these national grants as quickly as possible to help businesses deal with the financial impacts of the pandemic.
The report sets out how the council acknowledges that as restrictions are lifted in the coming months, it will be essential that efforts are made to ensure County Durham’s town centres can become sustainable and accessible locations for both shopping and leisure use.
Councillors will hear that the authority proposes free parking as a short-term measure to encourage people to return to retail and leisure destinations.
The meeting will be told that prior to coronavirus restrictions the county’s car parks remained popular; and how the charges in place contributed to a turnover of spaces with the vast majority of people parking for less than two hours.
It will be suggested that removing all parking charges would lead to people parking all day. The alternative of offering free parking after 2pm would prevent all day parking and target the hours which tend to be naturally more quiet for traders.
Cabinet will be asked to agree the proposal to introduce free parking after 2pm each day, and to authorise this policy being reviewed every three months.
The meeting will hear the resultant loss in income would be covered by the council’s funding allocation from the government for expense associated with the pandemic.
Cllr Carl Marshall, the council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “We recognise that the last 12 months have been really tough for everyone and that businesses have suffered financially as a result of having to close for long periods.
“Yet now we have the prospect of restrictions being lifted, we can look forward to brighter times ahead with shops and leisure venues able to reopen; allowing people to get out and enjoy themselves once again and providing a much-needed boost to our economy.
“We want to do everything we can to support residents and businesses as we emerge from lockdown, and are therefore really pleased to be looking to introduce free parking in our town centres after 2pm.
“Improving access to town centres in this way can only be beneficial for both residents and businesses and crucially making parking free after 2pm will increase footfall at what is traditionally a quiet time; helping our economy to recover from the impacts of coronavirus.”