‘Free’ parking scheme is dividing opinion

SAVINGS IN STORE ... ... car parking in South Shields is now free for some shoppers.
SAVINGS IN STORE ... ... car parking in South Shields is now free for some shoppers.
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OPINION is divided over the likelihood of a parking refund scheme boosting trade in South Shields town centre.

South Tyneside Council has joined forces with retailers to enable shoppers to get the cost of parking refunded if they spend a specific amount in store.

Depending on the shop in question, those refunds could be worth between £10 and £50.

Among the traders to have signed on the dotted line are Argos, Greenwoods, Clarks, Northern Threads, GHI Computers and Just for Pets.

However, the council doesn’t yet know whether larger retailers such as Marks & Spencer will sign up.

The parking redemption scheme is an attempt to give the town centre a much-needed shot in the arm in the run-up to Christmas.

Retailers have long cited parking and parking charges as a key factor in whether or not shoppers venture into town.

And with the local authority reluctant to introduce free parking, confirmation of the success or failure of the scheme will be eagerly awaited.

As part of the initiative, shoppers using any council-run car park will receive two tickets. One is to put on their windscreens, while the other can be used to get refunds at stores.

There was support for the initiative among the motorists the Gazette approached in the North Street car park in South Shields town centre, but some also expressed scepticism.

Sue Henderson, 54, of Marsden, South Shields, said: “It’s a penny a minute to park here. Often, I put 60p in, but I’m back well before that.

“If you’re spending as little as that, is there really an incentive to spend £10 or £20, or even £50, just to reclaim the price of your parking?

“I think this is something of a diversion from the need for better shops.

“I used to run a shop, Tribal Revival in Fowler Street, and I found that trade fell when all the shops around me, particularly Frank Lake and Sons, closed. We need better shops.”

That was a view shared by retired Doreen Alexander, of South Shields.

She said: “When you’re paying £1 for parking, there’s not that much of an incentive to tempt you to spend in the shops.

“I rarely come into town because it’s full of charity shops and phone shops.”

Retired boilermaker Robert Hoy, 75, of South Shields, had a more positive view.

He said: “I think it’s a really good idea. At least, it’s a positive move.

“I know they do a similar thing in Crook, County Durham, where I think you get your parking fee back if you spend just £5.

“We’re not here that often. but members of our family are. I’ll have to tell them it’s been introduced.”

Also enthusiastic was student Chelsea Roberts, 19, of Lawrence Avenue, South Shields.

She backed the scheme, even though she does not drive, saying: “I’m in town a lot so I think it’s a good idea. It will give people an incentive to come and spend their money.”

Suzanne Docherty, 51, a worker at the café in Morrisons, South Shields, initially backed the scheme – until she learned how much she would need to spend in store.

She said: “At first, I thought it would work, until I looked at the amounts you need to spend to get your money back.

“In B&M Bargains, you need to spend £20. That’s quite a lot. If the amounts were less, I’d be more sure it would have an impact.”

Jamie Smith, 20, of Chichester, South Shields, added: “It would be good to have some of the bigger retailers on board, but Northern Threads has signed up, which is good. I get in there a lot.”