A COALITION of town centre traders calling for a relaxation of council parking charges has been granted an extension of free parking, despite local authority bosses insisting its regime is not exacerbating retailers’ woes.

In a surprise move, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive has approved doubling the length of time shoppers visiting Northallerton High Street and Knaresborough Market Place can park free of charge to one hour until the end of December.

The decision follows Northallerton Business Improvement District (BID) describing the 30-minute free street parking time limit introduced in 2014 as “totally inadequate to do any shopping” under social distancing rules as customers could spend that time queuing outside one store.

A petition backed by 114 of the 181 occupied High Street business premises, stated firms were struggling before the pandemic, several had gone under during lockdown, and the rest need help to get back on their feet.

Director of BID Charles Barker, managing director of Barkers department store, said the council’s study into parking on the high street and findings that little, if anything, should change had done “little to ease our concerns about the commercial damage our High Street is experiencing from the very limited free parking”.

In a letter to the executive, he said one of the “disturbing facts” from the council study was that over the last two years the number of vehicles parking free in the High Street for up to 30 minutes has dropped by almost 50,000, with no compensatory increase free allowance at the nearby Applegarth car park.

He stated: “These are worrying figures for the economic health of Northallerton.”

Mr Barker said the report also showed that one of the council’s main objectives for the charging regime - to cut congestion - had failed with traffic flow remaining static, while the BID’s survey showed businesses felt strongly traffic jams had increased.

The council’s executive member for access, Councillor Don Mackenzie said charging for parking on the street encouraged turnover of spaces and it improved the look of town centres.

He said Northallerton’s parking charges were extremely low compared with places such as Harrogate and that car parking surpluses were used towards subsidising bus journeys.

The meeting heard the parking regime was achieving its aims, but the council’s study had not considered the situation due to social distancing and the extra time needed to carry out small shopping errands.

Cllr Mackenzie added the free parking extension in Northallerton would continue until the new year, when he hoped the effects of Covid-19 would have become a thing of the past, and to be consistent, the concession would also be granted for Knaresborough Market Place.