OUR town centres are struggling to survive in the face of increased competition from retail parks.

It’s easy to drive to the likes of the Metrocentre or Teesside Retail Park, have everything close together, and park for free.

But town centres are important because they give places character and bring them to life. For town centres to compete with their out-of-town rivals, they need to be more appealing, both in terms of the mix of shops and convenience to shoppers.

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Darlington is a lovely town, with a great deal going for it. A traditional covered market gives it something different, alongside national chains such as Binns and hopefully – in the not too distant future – Debenhams.

But the most regular complaint we hear about Darlington is that it has become a parking nightmare. The bottom line is that restrictions and an over-zealous approach to parking enforcement is putting people off.

The borough council has now reversed its unpopular decision to introduce £1-an-hour parking charges for Sunday shoppers.

The move led – surprise, surprise – to a drop in town centre trade and there will now be a return to a flat rate of £1 a day. But how much damage has been caused to Darlington’s reputation and appeal in the meantime?

Other town centres need to look at the Darlington experience and learn from it. We all appreciate that councils are cash-strapped but using car parking charges as a revenue-generator in tough times will prove to be a false economy