Council bosses in South Tyneside have said its parking charges are “fair and reasonable” in response to calls from Gazette readers to make more spaces free.
More than 400 people who took part in an online poll said free parking would be the best way to revitalise South Shields town centre following the confirmation that another shop will close.
It was announced last week that Burton, on King Street, will shut its doors after being a staple on the town’s high street for years.
This led residents across the borough to make calls for change - including more free parking to attract shoppers, and different kinds of retailers.
South Tyneside Council said that parking brings in the hard-pressed authority more than £1million a year, which is spent on highways and road safety as well as maintaining car parks.
Addressing the calls, a council spokeswoman said: “Visitors can park for free, with more than 300 free parking spaces available across South Shields town centre.
“Over recent years, we have increased the number of free spaces available across car parks at The Word, the back of Ocean Road, St Hilda’s at Crossgate and at the Customs House.
“Charges were also removed at River Drive and the all-day parking fee behind Fowler Street was reduced from £3 to £2.”
She added: “Charges have not increased since 2010 and we have some of the lowest fees in Tyne and Wear with a penny-a-minute rate for the first hour in the majority of our car parks.
“We believe this is fair and reasonable and continues to offer good value for money compared to neighbouring towns.
“It is important to note that the annual £1.1million generated from charges goes back into highways and road safety, as well as to maintain, improve and secure our car parks.
“If parking were free, then this money would have to be found from elsewhere, particularly given that the council is the third hardest-hit by reductions in funding from central government.
“This would impact on all residents, not just motorists.
“South Shields Town Centre is by no means a unique case, with high streets all across the country suffering due to the rise in online shopping and the popularity of out-of-town retail parks.
“We are doing everything we can to make our town centre an attractive place for businesses to invest and for people to visit.
“Our 365 masterplan for the town centre is moving at pace and will help to increase footfall among shoppers and visitors as we expand our offer beyond just retail to leisure and recreation.”
Big names that have beeen lost from King Street in recent years include Woolworths, Mothercare, Marks & Spencer, HMV, Currys, JJB Sports, Evans, Geordie Jeans and Dorothy Perkins.
The street has been boosted by arrivals like Boyes, Cooplands Bakery, Argos and Sports Direct.
South Tyneside Council has installed new bollards to make King Street even more pedestrian friendly, introduced free parking after 3pm in the run- up to Christmas, made major improvements to the Market Place, established smart parking systems so people can pay by phone, and erected new advertising boards.
In 2016/17, the authority earned more than £1million from motorists using its car parks.
Drivers forked out £1,020,981 to leave their vehicles in South Tyneside’s 22 chargeable off-street car parks. The council also made another £104,000 from people who used on-street pay-and-display bays.
The free spaces in South Tyneside include:
•The Word (up to three hours)
•The Customs House
•St Hilda’s at Crossgate
•Mile End Road