South Tyneside Council has been hit by a fall in profits from car parking of almost a quarter of a million pounds.
Council bosses say the £236,000 drop is due to investment work and lower charges, but critics claim the decline has been caused by lack of shops in South Shields town centre and the cost of parking for drivers.
New figures show that in the last financial year, the council earned £231,000 in surplus parking revenue – less than half the £467,000 it made in the previous year.
The borough is one of just 55 councils out of England’s 353 English local authorities to see a decline in profits, according to data released by the RAC Foundation.
Council chiefs say the decline in profits is down to a combination of factors, including spending cash on new car parks and lowering charges in others in South Shields.
A council spokesman said: “This reduction is based on a number of changes to parking provision over recent years, which has included more investment into car parks and free parking initiatives to help attract more visitors to our town centres.
“We have built new car parks at the back of Fowler Street and behind Ocean Road in South Shields and introduced electric charging points at a number of sites.
“The council has also removed charges and created more than 300 new free spaces at the back of Ocean Road, St Hilda’s at Crossgate and at the Customs House.
“Pay-and-display meters have also been removed in River Drive and the all day parking fee behind Fowler Street has been reduced from £3 to £2.
“We continue to do all we can to draw more shoppers to the area and believe our parking charges are fair and reasonable and continue to offer good value for money compared to our neighbouring towns.”
However, Coun George Elsom believes the reason for the decline is the lack of shops in South Shields town centre and the cost of parking.
Coun Elsom, an independent representative for the Cleadon Park ward in South Shields, said: “I think it’s quite clear that people are voting with their feet. There’s very little for them now in the town centre, so they’re travelling elsewhere.
“The charges in the actual town centre car parks are too much for what there is on offer. I think this decline in profits will continue.”
The drop in profits is no shock to Nigel Binnie, co-owner of Northern Threads in Ocean Road, South Shields.
He too believes the overall lack of customers to the town centre is the main contributing factor.
He said: “The council’s drop in parking profits is reflecting our profits. They’re down from last year.
“If you looks out the window now, you wouldn’t think it was a fortnight before Christmas. It looks like an afternoon in March. There’s nobody out there.
“Even though the council’s not making as much in profits, I still don’t think they will make it free car parking to encourage people to return.”
Gateshead Council also saw a drop in revenue from £328,000 in 2012-13 to £279,000 in the last financial year.
However, North Tyneside Council’s profits almost doubled, from £1,341,000 in 2012-13 to £2,041,000 the year after, and Newcastle City Council also saw an increase, from £6,275,000 to £6,296,000.
Sunderland City Council made a loss of £306,000 in 2012-13 and saw that deficit rise to £383,000 last financial year.