Cash-strapped Bassetlaw District Council has confessed it cannot afford to make car parking in Retford town centre free for the whole year.
Shoppers, retailers and businesses all welcomed the council’s decision to scrap charges from 2 pm each day at its car parks in the run-up to Christmas, which gave trade a timely shot in the arm.
But pleas to extend the festive freebie to help revitalise Retford have fallen on deaf ears, with the council saying it would have to make budget cuts or increase council tax to pay for such a move.
Coun June Evans, Cabinet member for finance at Bassetlaw, said: “The council offers free parking in its shopper car parks all year round until 10 am and after 4 pm every day, and is one of the lowest charging authorities for parking in Nottinghamshire.
“The reason that we do not offer the Christmas free parking concession all year round is due to the amount of money the council would lose in income. We would not be able to maintain our car parks to their existing standard.
“It cost more than £280,000 to run our car parks last year, and we spent another £62,000 on things like relining, signage updates, machine repairs and upgrades.
“Since 2010, we have cut more than £10 million from our budgets, with savings last year of £953,000.
“In 2020, the government will end the annual grant to all councils and we will become a self-financing local authority.
“Therefore, if we offered free parking, we would have to cover the loss of income by either cutting other budgets or raising council tax.”
When the Christmas concession, which runs until Wednesday, January 2, was announced, council leader, Coun Simon Greaves, admitted it was to encourage people to shop in the town centre. He stressed: “We remain committed to supporting local businesses in the district.”
However, many businesses feel the council is missing a policy trick by not making the concession permanent to halt the town centre’s potential decline.
Former retailer Sharron Testo, who used to run a post office, cafe and school tuck shop in the town centre, said: “It is good to see the council trying to support local businesses, and it has been wonderful to see the car parks full and the town bustling again.
“But these businesses need to be supported all year round if they have any chance of surviving into the future against Internet shopping.”
Sharron pointed out that if shops and businesses had to close because of falling trade, the council would lose out financially anyway on rents and business rates. She added: “Please let this be a much-needed wake-up call.”