Visitors to South Shields and seasonal shoppers will receive a sprinkling of Christmas cheer with free parking – after 3pm – throughout December this year.
Council-owned car parks in the town centre will be free after 3pm for the whole month.
They will also be free all day on Sundays and on Small Business Saturday – December 3).
However, business owners don’t believe the move will make much of a difference to trade and say last year’s similar scheme didn’t boost customers.
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Nigel Binnie, who owns Northern Threads, in Ocean Road with business partner Phil Goodfellow, said: “It’s been done before and it didn’t work. It’s all a bit too little too late.
“The shops close at 5.30pm during the week, you’re giving people two-and-a-half hours of free parking and many people will be employed themselves. By the time they finish work and come down the shops will be shut.
“People also won’t want to wait until last minute on a Saturday to be able to benefit from free parking.”
He added: “It’s just ridiculous. Look at last week they held the annual Christmas lights switch-on on a Thursday, a school night, in the Market Place.
“Usually this is done late on a Saturday afternoon in the centre of King Street and the town will be packed, we tend to see a noticeable difference in trade that day.
“But the Thursday was dead, and so was last Saturday. It’s beyond frustrating.”
Council bosses say the free car parking throughout December initiative has been introduced to support town centre businesses and traders as well as give shoppers and visitors to the borough an extra boost.
Coun Moira Smith, lead member for area management and community safety, said: “We are committed to supporting local businesses, shoppers and visitors to the borough where we can.
“Getting prepared for Christmas can be stressful and expensive, which is why we are hoping this initiative will benefit residents and businesses alike by making it convenient for everyone to visit the town centre and get some seasonal treats for friends and family.
“The offer is running for the whole of December, including the week between Christmas and New Year, perfect for shoppers wanting to grab a bargain during the seasonal sales.”
South Tyneside Council says its Christmas Wonderland programme is packed full of festive family-friendly events for residents and visitors to the borough to enjoy.
Councillor John Anglin, lead member for regeneration and economy, said: “I am delighted we have been able to put this scheme in place over the festive period to help seasonal visitors and shoppers enjoy what we have to offer in South Shields.
“This is in addition to the 300-plus free car parking schemes at various locations throughout the town centre including Ocean Road and the Customs House which we have all year round. This additional Christmas offer will give local businesses and visitors to the borough a little festive cheer.”
Readers have also been having their say on our social media pages.
Many already feel frustrated that they have to pay any money to park in the gravel car park in Mile End Road, South Shields.
Joanne Rylance wrote: “That car park surface is a disgrace and the council should be ashamed for putting charges on.”
Chris Tranter added: “They can keep it. I wouldn’t muddy my boots walking through that car park.”
Martin Steele sent: “Shouldn’t have to pay anyway. Have you saw the potholes? They smash your car to bits! Shows the standards of South Tyneside Council, take money but won’t lay a decent surface to park on and that’s the town centre.”
Jennifer Hudson thinks the offer is too late in the day. She stated: “So they’re free after three when most people have finished shopping and gone home. What an offer!”
Diane Bradley Crone shares similar views.
She wrote: “Yes, let’s all sit in the house until 3pm, pick the kids up from school and drag them round the shops. Who comes up with these ludicrous ideas?”
Elizabeth Smith asked: “Why can we not have a parking disc system, so many free hours just set the dial. If Morpeth can do it, why not here?”
David Tuck said: “I always do my shopping after three in Shields, I’m so happy. I’ll let all my friends and family know so they can all drive down. I feel like I won the lottery.”
Phil Crumbie added: “There’s no such thing as council-owned car parks. It’s public land held in trust. They should be free anyway.”