Motorists are set to be given two hours free parking in Bideford, Holsworthy and Torrington town centres to revive the local economy.
Torridge District Coucil’s community and resources committee backed a motion from Cllr Dermot McGeough to introduce free parking for two hours a day in order to help traders during the coronavirus crisis.
Subject to full council approval, free parking would be offered for up to two hours a day in October and November at the car parks in Bideford, Holsworthy and Torrington town centres.
The decision could see the council lose an estimated £73,000 in car parking income, but Cllr McGeough said that they were not losing that money, but investing it back into the local economy which would make it back ‘tenfold’.
He said: “Two hours free parking will give the public and business owners enough time with the Covid-19 restrictions.
“The £73,000, we are not losing it but investing it back into the local economy and will make it back tenfold. It is key and paramount for the town centres to survive and come back, and we want footfall back in the town centre and for people to spend money again.
“The local economy is dead on its feet and needs to be revived and I am trying to give it the chance. People whinge about only having an hour on the ticket, but you cannot get your shopping done in that time if you abide the social distancing regulations. It is a lot of money but we have to do it.
“It will give us a good indication of whether it works or not, and if it doesn’t, then we can say we tried our best for local community.”
Cllr David Brenton added: “We can afford two months of trial and experiment, and if it doesn’t work we will never do it again.
“It won’t be £72,000 of lost income as in those months there will be less uses of the car park anyway. It has to be two hours at any time or you penalising the rural population who would be faced with rushing along the roads to meet a deadline, and social distancing means you can be waiting outside somewhere like Boots for a long time.”
But Cllr Nick Laws said that while he was very supportive of helping shopkeepers, couldn’t back two hours free parking at all times during the day, and instead called for the free parking to apply from 8am to 10am.
He said: “If people know it is free until 10am, they will come then, and it is far less of an impact on the budget. We can’t truly and honourably give away money that we don’t really have.”
Cllr Richard Wiseman said people don’t go shopping because the parking is free but because they need to get something.
He said: “I hate paying for parking, but you go to town not because it is free but because they have the products or services that you want to engage with.
“Sixty per cent of all shopping is online and offering free parking is swimming against the tide.
“There is no clear evidence that people will go to town because it is free and £1 for parking doesn’t put them off. People go shopping in the town because the town provides them with the services they require. That is what we should be concentrating on.
“Even though we all hate paying for parking, we all do it when we need to go to town, so let’s provide an answer to their needs.”
Mid Devon District Council introduced two hours of free parking from August 1 to September 30 in selected car parks, and Torridge’s leader Cllr Ken James said that having spoken to Mid Devon’s leader about it, their leader’s advice was don’t do it, it’s more hassle than it’s worth’.
But Cllr James added: “I am not convinced it will increase footfall and we have no proof it will improve things, but if we can do it without going completely mad, I am happy to trial something and we need to find a way to help the shops that we can afford.”
The Community and Resources Committee voted by eight votes to three to back Cllr McGeough’s motion to introduce two hours free parking into the car parks in Bideford, Holsworthy and Torrington for October and November.
Due to the financial implications of the proposal on the budget, the motion now returns to full council for final approval for how it will be funded.
When the measures are in place, motorists will still be required to purchase a ticket from the machine, but will need to select the ‘free parking’ option.