BUSINESS owners on one of South Tyneside’s busiest streets have met with councillors to receive assurances over a new ‘free’ parking scheme.
Restaurant and B&B bosses invited councillors and town hall officials to an Ocean Road gathering after receiving letters outlining the proposed plan for South Shields town centre.
The ‘parking redemption scheme’ – backed by major stores including Marks & Spencer and Wilkinson – means shoppers will be able to park in the town and have the cost of their ticket refunded by a retail outlet, providing they spend an agreed amount set by the store.
Ocean Road traders had expressed concerns that they would be automatically included in the initiative, and arranged a meeting to raise their concerns
Beacon and Bents ward councillors Audrey McMillan, John Anglin and John Wood attended the meeting at Monsoon restaurant, to answer questions.
Businesses were assured that the scheme is voluntary and is intended solely for the town centre.
Coun Anglin told them: “I think we must recognise that the letter was a mistake – it should not have been sent to yourselves.
“I also want to make it clear that the councillors weren’t aware that this letter was sent out and we were upset by it, too.”
Business owners were also told by council area management boss Andy Whittaker they had no plans in the “immediate future” – meaning at least the next year – to introduce paid-for parking in Ocean Road, and that the road itself, as well as the parking facilities behind it, would remain free.
The old John Wright Centre, behind Ocean Road, is also being converted into a car park, adding about 45 new spaces, councillors said.
Dhil Hussain, who owns Asha restaurant, said what may work for the town centre might not in Ocean Road, adding: “We, as business owners, cannot afford to pay for our customers’ parking.
“Times are tough and we already have our prices as low as possible to help our customers out.”
Monsoon owner Showkoth Choudoury added: “When we were young you would see coaches of people coming from all over the place to eat at Ocean Road, and you don’t see that any more, but you see it in Seaburn, and we have to ask why.”
Business owners said that although there were no plans to include Ocean Road in the scheme, they still felt that the council was making the wrong decision, and should make parking free throughout the town.
Janet Bates, who owns Forest Guest House, said: “I tell my customers to leave their cars and walk along to the town centre, or down to the seafront, and spend their money in South Shields, because that’s what we need.
“But why would they now? People will go to Hebburn, Jarrow, or Washington, where parking is free.”
Council bosses hope the ‘free’ parking scheme, due to start in October, will increase shopping numbers and spending.
The amount customers must spend to have access to the ‘free’ parking will be set by individual shopping outlets.