A NEW parking refund scheme aimed at attracting more shoppers to South Shields town centre will start on Saturday – but some traders remain to be convinced it will be a success.
Under the new system – first revealed by the Gazette back in August – shoppers will get the cost of their parking reimbursed, providing they spend an agreed minimum amount in one of the participating stores.
So far, 15 businesses have signed up, ranging from national retailers like Argos and Greenwoods to local outfits such as menswear store Northern Threads.
Many of the high-profile national chains have yet to get involved, but South Tyneside Council bosses say they have approached all traders to take part and are optimistic more will come on board.
Under the scheme, shoppers using any of the council-run car parks will receive two tickets. One is for their windscreen, while the other can be refunded at the stores.
All participating retailers will set their level of qualifying spend between £10 and £50, which they will display on a colour-coded sticker in their windows.
Of those stores the Gazette spoke to, many felt a better option would have been to simply provide free parking to try and persuade shoppers not to go further afield.
Nigel Binnie, co-owner of Edit Clothing and Northern Threads, said: “I don’t think it will make any difference.
“I’m not dismissing it because we’re willing to give anything a try that might prove helpful, but providing free parking would be a much better option - one hundred per cent.
“The council is providing parking for £1 on the seafront after Haven Point opened.
“Why can’t they do the same to keep people in the town centre?
“I’m pretty disillusioned with the town centre – there’s no footfall.
“It’s great that the Officers Club opened but something like the Christmas shop could well be gone come Christmas Eve. We need more quality retailers.”
Gavin Holder, owner of GHI Computers in King Street, agreed.
He said: “I’m keeping an open mind and we will trial it for three months to see what impact it has, but the fact is it’s the retailers who are paying for this.
“Why can’t the council do what they’ve done in Sunderland and provide free parking at weekends or at least provide free parking four or five hours of the day?
“If there is a remarkable uptake on this we’ll continue with it and you have got to try different things. That’s why we signed up.”
Mr Holder said he wasn’t surprised larger retailers, such as Marks and Spencer, had yet to sign up for the scheme, adding: “You have to go through the hierarchy of different managers to get the go-ahead from the larger firms. I’d like to think that the fewer retailers offering this the more people will spend in my store.”
More enthusiastic was Graeme Craggs, manager of Beautiful Homes in Fowler Street, who said: “I think it’s a good idea and hopefully it will bring people in.
“People come in here quite a bit and tell me how they begrudge putting money in a ticket machine.”