Free car parking plan to help towns recover from Covid

DURHAM County Council looks set to make town centre parking free after 2pm to aid the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Next Wednesday, the council’s cabinet will 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.

A report for members shows how lockdown restrictions have hit retail, leisure and hospitality and led to the cancellation of events – which impacted on trade and footfall in communities across the county. The proposal seeks to help those businesses and residents.

It is in addition to initiatives such as the County Durham Business Recovery Grants scheme – which offers investment to help firms affected by the pandemic – and national Government grants allocated by the council.

The report says, as restriction ease in the coming months, it will be essential to try to make County Durham’s town centres sustainable and accessible locations for shopping and leisure use.

Councillors will hear that free parking is seen 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 quiet for traders.

Cabinet will be asked to agree the proposal and three-monthly reviews.

The resultant loss in income would be covered by the council’s funding allocation from the Government for expense associated with the pandemic.

The Northern Echo:

Cabinet member for economic regeneration Cllr Carl Marshall 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.”

The Northern Echo | Durham