TRADERS have welcomed an initiative to introduce Sunday free parking in a town centre.

Darlington Borough Council are planning to make all council-run car parks within the town centre ring road free to use on Sundays for an initial six month period, starting in November.

The scheme has been launched in a bid to boost Sunday trading, and it has already been welcomed by residents and traders.

Louise Dobson, of Skinnergate News, welcomed the announcement and said she hoped it would boost weekend business.

"Hopefully it will encourage more people to come into Darlington on a Sunday.

"We need all the help we can get. You’ll get people saying too little too late but I think we are at the point now were anything is better than nothing and hopefully it will be successful."

Sunday parking currently costs £1 all day in any council car park, and the free two hour parking offer also applies on a Sunday in all council long stay car parks.

Last year, the council introduced the free two hour scheme in an attempt to "fight against the threat of online shopping", but the authority has faced mounting pressure from shoppers and businesses ever since to increase the offering as way to boost town centre trade.

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said: “We are planning to make all Council-run car parks within the town centre ring road free to use on Sundays for an initial six month period, starting in November.

“I hope this move, which delivers on one of our key manifesto pledges, will help to boost the Sunday trading economy in our town centre. It has already had a positive response on Facebook.

“There is so much going on in our town centre – we have excellent restaurants, shops, specialist markets, events and leisure facilities all open on a Sunday and I think this could be a real game changer for our local economy.”

The Darlington Conservative group said the scheme was the first phase of the party's examination and overhaul of car parking facilities in the town.

Earlier this year, Cllr Scott said her party's manifesto pledge, in the form of two hours free parking and three hours restrictive parking, could be introduced due to the business rates paid by Amazon, who are due to occupy Symmetry Park, next to Lingfield Point, later this year.

However, Labour councillor and opposition leader Stephen Harker said the money from the Amazon site had already been included in the authority's budget for the next four years, and further cuts would have to be made to fund the scheme.

The Sunday free parking scheme will be discussed by cabinet members next month.

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