A LOCAL authority which is set to spend just under £400,000 subsidising car parking despite concerns it will make little difference to the number of town centre visitors has faced questions over whether the move is morally wrong and flawed.

A full meeting of Darlington Borough Council saw its Conservative leadership repeatedly challenged over reintroducing the principle of charging to park across the town, but offering motorists two hours’ free at most council parking areas until after Christmas. The debate followed claims that similar previous initiatives had brought in between 66 and 100 more cars a day to Darlington town centre, so if the latest scheme drew similar numbers of extra cars over three months, the parking subsidy would cost between £45 and £65 per extra car.

Councillor Bryony Holroyd called on the authority to subsidise transport alternatives “for those who can’t get around because they can’t afford or don’t wish to travel by car”.

She said: “It’s a moral question really. Should we be subsidising car parking for those who are rich enough to own a car when we’re not subsidising those who don’t have any other means to travel?”

Councillor Libby McCollom asked what initiatives the authority was undertaking to support bus users as public transport use had fallen by up to 35 per cent during the pandemic.

In response, Councillor Andy Keir, the council’s local services portfolio holder, said while there was a finite amount of buses available and the number of passengers buses could transport at a time had fallen due to social distancing rules, plans were in place to “maximise bus routes”.

He said much of the recent focus had been on ensuring there were sufficient buses to ferry children to and from schools, but bus services were “constantly under review”.

Cllr Keir said subsidies would make little difference to numbers travelling on buses, as the main issue was over limited capacity.

Councillor Stephen Harker said judging by the lack of success of previous car park subsidy schemes, the council should spend the money on town centre schemes that would have “a real impact”.

Cllr Holroyd added: “We must base our decisions on evidence and not myths and wishful thinking.”

Cllr Keir replied the funding was needed to bring people back to the town that were not able to travel on buses due to capacity constraints.

He said cars were the government’s preferred method for people to travel while isolating.

Cllr Keir added: “We believe that the value in getting as many people into the town centre will support those businesses.”

He said time limits on free car parking spaces would mean there would be a turnover of visitors to the town centre, as there had been issues over the availability of parking spaces in recent months.