POLITICIANS have clashed over claims from a new council leader that business rates from Darlington's new Amazon development could be used to introduce free parking and revitalise the town centre.

Darlington Borough Council's new leader Heather Scott said her party's manifesto pledge, in the form of two hours free parking and three hours restrictive parking, similar to schemes operating in Yarm, 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.

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Scott also vowed to meet with bosses at Amazon to discuss working conditions at the new warehouse, and said she was talking with stakeholders across the town about how to increase footfall in the town centre.

But last night, 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.

He said Amazon will pay £1.25m a year in business rates, but the cost of introducing free parking would be about £1.5m.

Last year, two hours of free parking was introduced in council-owned long-stay car parks, but the authority has faced mounting pressure from shoppers and businesses ever since to increase the offering as way to boost town centre trade, which has suffered a number of seismic blows in recent years, including the loss of M&S and uncertainty over the long term future of House of Fraser.

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Scott said: "If the firm didn't come to Darlington, they would have gone somewhere else in the Tees Valley.

"The criticisms are very short sighted. The jobs will benefit the town and with the business rates, we are looking to see if we can use them to help the town centre.

"One of things we have been looking at is offering free parking, two hours free and three hours restrictive similar to Northallerton and Yarm. We are in discussions with businesses.

"We put the pledge about parking in our manifesto – we've only been in five weeks but it is an idea and we know we need to increase footfall in the town to support businesses.

"The concerns about tax are a separate issue all together and in terms of the working conditions, it is important we have dialogue and I would like to meet with managers (at Amazon)."

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Harker said: "We set the budget for the next four years and the Conservatives knew the Amazon money was included in that.

"It is about choices but after 10 years of cuts we are only left with the essential services we have to offer, such as for our older residents and people in care. We have a balanced budget but we are using reserves.

"They will have to make cut backs on more services – there is very little room for manoeuvre."