Bolton shoppers will have free access to around 2,700 town centre car spaces this winter, as the council attempts to boost high-street trade.
Cabinet yesterday sanctioned four multi-storey car parks to operate without charge between November 1 and January 27, during weekends and after 3pm on weekdays.
NCP car parks on Deane Road, Topp Way and the Octagon will participate, with APCOA’s Bow Street multi-storey also involved.
Leader of Bolton Council Councillor Cliff Morris welcomed the decision, claiming that the effect of the economic downturn was the major catalyst.
He said: “We know times are tough everywhere and we want to support our retailers and shoppers over Christmas and New Year.
“The free parking scheme is something that town centre retailers have been asking for and when we met with them recently they welcomed the news.
“We’ve also got a programme of entertainment and events in the run-up to Christmas and we will be running a campaign with town centre businesses to encourage people to shop in Bolton.”
The cost, estimated at £150,000, is offset by Development & Regeneration and Corporate budgets which fund such standalone schemes.
Bolton Council added that if the initiative – first trialled last Christmas – is successful then it will return for major events.
Michelle Geoghegan, Local Policy Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce welcomed the decision.
She said: “Trade in the town will undoubtedly benefit from an increase in footfall and it will go a long way to assist traders in what has become a difficult picture for many town centre retailers.
“It is incentives such as this and also ‘The Proper Offer’ pop up that will offer much-needed support to businesses by encouraging more people to shop in Bolton in the lead up to and following Christmas.
“It will be interesting to see the impact that these changes will have on trade once the data is assessed at the end of the period and we are hopeful that the results will be highly positive.
However, Ms Geoghegan warned that car parking fees are only one of many ways in which town centre business can be affected.
She said: “It also vital to mention that it is not just the cost of parking which is an important factor that impacts upon town centre trade.
“We must also be mindful of enforcement activities and the effect these can have on shoppers’ experiences.
“It would be prudent to have this closely managed throughout this period on the areas and times where charges do still apply, so as not to undermine the positive changes that have been implemented.”
Manager of H&M Bolton, who would only reveal her name as Rebecca, said that the initiative would most likely have a very positive effect on business.
“Free parking will benefit us greatly; even if people don’t intend to come into our store but have parked for free in the town then they might come in off the street and have a look,” she said.
“I think one of the main reasons that businesses in the town centre suffer is because of the car parking charges.
“Middlebrook Retail Park benefits from free parking, and I think that having no parking charges will have a great effect on the town centre.”