PARKING charges in Darlington and Teesside are being scrapped - and replaced with up to three hours free parking. 

Councils across the Tees Valley have agreed to suspend parking charges in council-run car parks in each of the five main town centres from January.

Visitors will soon get a minimum of two hours and a maximum of three hours free parking in Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Stockton town centres.

A number of a car parks across Guisborough and Yarm, near Stockton, will also see charges suspended in the free parking scheme. 

It is understood that normal parking charges will apply once the three-hour free period has been reached.

After receiving funding for free parking, the councils will continue to offer up free parking for at least two years.

The introduction of the scheme was today approved in a bid to "encourage" more people to support shops, cafés and businesses, following the Covid outbreak.

The Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who pledged to introduce the free parking scheme, said the move would "increase" visitor numbers in a "boost" to the region's economy.

He said: “When I first announced my intention to introduce free parking in major town centres across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, I did so because our high streets were in desperate need of a helping hand. Now, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation. 

'Nobody likes paying for parking'

“Our retail and hospitality businesses in our town centres have been some of the hardest hit, so when it is safe for people to return to shops, cafes and restaurants, we need to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to give them the vital support they need.

“Nobody likes paying for parking and it is one of the main reasons I constantly hear as to why people aren’t shopping in town centres.

"By making it free, we can increase the number of people visiting our high streets and therefore increase their spending, boost our economy and help support jobs."

As part of the scheme, the revenue that the councils will lose from car parking charges is being compensated from funding provided from the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

Mr Houchen said: “It has been an incredibly sad sight to see shops, cafes and businesses closed in our high streets this year, and as we come out of the other side from the pandemic next year, we don’t want these sights to remain, so it is vital we do everything we can to help them. 

“Everyone across our region deserves a vibrant and thriving high street that can still flourish in the age of online shopping."

Mr Houchen added that the free parking would help high streets across the Tees Valley to become an even more "dynamic and vibrant" place for businesses.

Simon Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "This is excellent news for the major town centres across the Tees Valley.

"More than ever, our high streets need a helping hand. Retail and hospitality businesses are the lifeblood of our town centres and as soon as it is safe to do so, we all need to support our local shops, cafes and restaurants

"Free parking is one of the advantages out-of-town shopping centres have on our high streets.

"This is just what our local independent businesses need at this critical time."

Meanwhile, Jacob Young, MP for Redcar, said he expected a "continuous stream" of shoppers into the Tees Valley town centres.

He said: "In the current climate, our high street businesses need all the support they can get and I want to be the first to congratulate Ben Houchen on bringing this landmark policy forward.

"By providing a set period of free parking, we can increase footfall on our high streets while maintaining a healthy turnover to allow a continuous stream of shoppers into our towns."

Reacting, Darlington Borough Council leader Councillor Heather Scott hailed the announcement as "important" for the town centre.

She said: "This is an important announcement for our town centre, particularly given the COVID challenges we face at the moment. Free parking is something that the traders and businesses have been asking us to do for such a long time.

"I am delighted that Ben Houchen and the TVCA is enabling this to happen in Darlington and look forward to receiving this additional funding from January 2021.

"The extended time period will give continuity and stability to the parking offer which will help to increase and encourage footfall in our town centres giving a welcome and much-need boost to our town centre economy.

"This has the potential to bring more people into our town centre, helping to support jobs and businesses alike. This is a great offer and it will certainly complement the work being undertaken with regards to the successful Town’s Fund bid recently."