A motion to reintroduce free parking in Torridge’s town centre car parks is set to go before councillors on Monday (July 13).

Torridge District Council (TDC) is holding a special community and resources committee meeting to discuss a motion from Councillor Dermot McGeough to allow free parking for two months.

Cllr McGeough’s motion said the move would ‘encourage footfall’ in town centres and boost local businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, TDC said the move would see it lose approximately £192,000 in income, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected its financial position.

The council suspended parking charges for its car parks during the coronavirus lockdown while the majority of businesses were closed.

Town centre car parks in Bideford, Torrington and Holsworthy resumed charging on June 15 in line with the reopening of non-essential shops, while charges for coastal car parks resumed in May.

Cllr McGeogh’s motion said: “Given the recent pandemic and huge financial strain it has put on our local business owners, I would like to see TDC support our businesses to encourage footfall back to their premises in the town centres.

“We can help towards this by continuing free parking for two months, thus given them a small support cushion through this enabling phase of opening business back up.”

A report to councillors from TDC’s planning and economy manager Sean Kearney said there was no evidence to suggest free car parking would ‘lift trading opportunities’ in town centres.

The report said removing parking charges for two months in Bideford, Torrington and Holsworthy would cost the council £192,000, while there would still be a need for patrols in coastal car parks.

As of July 1, the council had taken £39,950 in pay and display charges since reopening its car parks after the lockdown.

The report said: “Torridge has been offering free parking on The Pill car park (Bideford) on Saturday afternoon and Sunday for some years and yet no evidence has been presented that this intervention has made a positive impact on town centre trading.”

“So, the benefits of the proposal are uncertain but what is certain is that the council would lose significant revenue by giving two months of free parking, the costs of providing the car parks and their management would not decrease and there is no obvious answer to how this budgetary impasse might be met.”

The report added: “It should also be noted that parking charges are an important revenue stream for the council and are used to cover the costs of service delivery. The costs of providing a parking service do not decrease if free parking is offered and will still need to be paid for.

“Given that there are extreme pressures on the council’s budget it seems counter intuitive to recommend any scheme that would reduce income without evidence that there would be benefits elsewhere.”