A festive parking offer aimed at boosting Christmas trade has been branded “too little, too late” by embattled business bosses.
Council chiefs have highlighted a range of measures to encourage more people to come to South Shields town centre during the busy December period.
Free parking will be served up after 3pm during the week and all day on Sunday throughout December at seven town centre car parks in South Shields, with free parking on Sundays.
But town centre businesses say they weren’t told of the initiative – and more needs to be done to bolster flagging footfall for the rest of the year.
The Gazette revealed yesterday that South Tyneside Council saw last year’s parking charge revenues drop to £155,000. Howver, it insists fees are not set up with profit in mind and the fall in income is because of free parking initiatives in recent years.
Businesses say the December parking initiative is a short-term response to a long-term concern and say they were left in the dark about the parking deal – which came into force on December 1 – leaving them little time to promote it to their customers.
Anthony Hall, owner of Premier Furnishings and Carpets, in King Street, South Shields, said; “I think it’s too little, too late. We need to have free car parking in the town centre throughout the year, not just in the run-up to Christmas.”
Nigel Binnie, co-owner of clothing store Northern Threads, in Ocean Road and Fowler Street, says the scheme will make ‘no difference’.
He said; “There is already free parking on Ocean Road and Mill Dam. This is no different to what is already on offer. We haven’t had any contact from the council about this.”
Ashleigh Smith, who runs Michaels Cafe in the Denmark Centre, South Shields, said: “If we had known about it earlier we could have put up signs on our windows to promote it, but we weren’t told about it by the council. I didn’t know anything about it until my customers came in and were talking about it.”
The business backlash comes just a day after council bosses were told they needed to rethink their car parking policy after profits slumped for the third year in a row.
New RAC Foundation figures found the authority made £155,000 from parking charges in the last financial year – down from £231,000 in 2013/14 and that figure is just a quarter of the £618,000 the council pocketed in 2010/11.
South Tyneside Council says one of the factors behind the profit fall has been its investment in free car parking initiatives introduced to attract more visitors to the town centre.
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “Over recent years we have made a number of changes to our parking provision, such as more investment into car parks and free parking initiatives to help attract more visitors to our town centres.
“The council has built new car parks in South Shields Town Centre at the back of Fowler Street and behind Ocean Road, and have introduced electric charging points at a number of sites. We have also removed charges and created over 300 new free spaces across car parks at the back of Ocean Road, St Hilda’s at Crossgate and at the Customs House – a short walk to the town centre.
“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 believe our parking charges are fair and reasonable and continue to offer good value for money compared to our neighbouring towns.”