Car parks could become free of charge at Christmas to ‘tempt customers into high streets’

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Many councils and private car parks may see fees ditched in the days and weeks ahead of Christmas to encourage motorists to shop. The AA claims free parking from 14 December onwards would “revive” the fortunes of “beleaguered shops and street traders”.

Edmund King, AA President, said free parking had been used in the past and a similar scheme was needed “now more than ever”.

He said: “Various parts of the country have #ShopLocal campaigns as they are petrified that niche local stores will be put out of business by online retail and lockdowns.

“Free parking periods at Christmas have been used in the past by councils and shopping centres to tempt customers into the high streets and shopping centres.

“The AA believes that, now more than ever, the hours and free parking locations should be extended.”

Many councils have already taken the initiative and announced a range of parking schemes in the run-up to the festive period.

Blaby Council in Leicester have confirmed drivers will be able to enjoy two hours of free parking in the run-up to the festive period

Scarborough council has confirmed charges will be lifted on up to seven days across December to ensure locals continue to shop.

Sedgemoor council has confirmed prices will be axed every Saturday in the run-up to December 25 in a scheme set to cost the council £4,600 each day.

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Copeland Council has brought forward free parking plans with costs slashed from the 5 November until the start of January.

They say this is to help “critical town centre businesses during the festive period and to help NHS workers”.

Peter O’Driscoll, CEO of private parking firm Ring Go has warned any free parking would be dependent on the current state of the country.

He warned that councils in areas with tougher restrictions in the run-up to Christmas would be more likely to reduce rates when lockdowns eventually eased.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, he said: “We are expecting a mixed bag of responses into Christmas and New Year.

“If it’s a relatively relaxed system, I think you’ll find parking will be maintained.

“But if it’s quite restricted you may see parking will go back to certainly a discounted rate, if not a free rate in some boroughs.

“We tend to see at Christmas time across the UK a lot of authorities offer evening special rates to encourage people to shop in the evenings.”

However, the changes could have very effective personal health benefits as motorists desperately avoid the coronavirus over the winter.

Mr King has claimed free parking would lead to “better social distancing” as otherwise drivers would be forced to get close to each other at pay and display machines.

Mr King added: “With fewer shoppers and some avoiding public transport, opening up free parking would also allow better social-distancing, instead of ticket machines becoming the ‘Achilles heel’ of attempts by stores, councils, and shopping centre managers to space out and protect visitors.

“This has been made worse by ticket machines becoming more complicated by requiring vehicle registration numbers as well as credit card details.

“Also, queuing is often a problem as ticket machines are often located where shoppers are squeezed at car park entrances or close to toilets.”

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