SOUTH Tyneside motorists have given the green light to a new ‘free’ parking scheme.
In a bid to revive South Shields’s flagging retail sector, the borough council has announced a radical new approach to town centre parking.
Major stores, including Marks & Spencer and Wilkinson, have agreed to sign up to the council’s ‘Parking Redemption Scheme’.
It means shoppers will be able to park in the town and have the cost of their ticket refunded by a retail outlet – if they spend an agreed amount in store.
The amount shoppers must spend to have access to the ‘free’ parking will be set by the individual shopping outlets.
But council bosses hope the scheme, due to come into force in October, will not only cut the cost of parking – but also increase spending in the shops.
It is an approach similar to that already operating at the town’s Asda store.
And it was met with support from a majority of the shoppers we approached in the town’s King Street.
Michael Laidler, 22, from Biddick Hall, South Shields, used to work in the street’s Burtons menswear store.
He saw at first-hand how town centre traders are struggling and welcomes the council’s initiative.
Mr Laidler, who now works in advertising, said: “It sounds good, although a lot of people just pop in to town to go to the market or to put a cheque into the bank.
“The street is canny dead and a lot of the problem is due to car parking charges.
“There’s nowhere free to park and the parking inspectors are constantly hovering around.
“Overall, I think it’s a good move, especially on market days and weekends, but maybe not so much during the week.”
Carer Ray Wilson, 57, comes into South Shields town centre every Friday for a meal at Colmans fish and chip restaurant and a stroll around the market.
He said: “It’s got to make a difference and encourage more people to come into town.
“Shields is facing tough competition from places like the MetroCentre, where the parking is free.
“That’s why so many people go there. I hope they do something to improve the parking meters when they change them over.
“I put a 50p in there today – and it spat it out.”
The new scheme was also endorsed by Marcelle Curry, 74, of the Mariners Cottages in South Shields.
She said: “I come into town most days and spend an average of about £1.20 a time.
“If you can spend £10 to get that money back, I think that’s worthwhile.”
Carol Fada, 67, from Whiteleas, added: “Free parking is a real issue in the town and this will help address that.
“Before I retired, I used to work in a local factory, and when I went to Asda, which was then Morrisons, you could never get parked at lunchtime because it was free then.
“The only problem is whether enough people will spend enough in the stores to qualify for the redemption. Having said that, at least they are doing something.”
Sawmill worker Adam Tokell, 36, from Boldon, said: “It’s an excellent idea. It might even reduce the amount of illegal parking in town too.
“It’s certainly better than most ideas the council come up with.”
Jobseeker John Hardy, 23, from South Shields, agreed, adding: “It’s a quid an hour to park. If you can get it for free, that’s great.”