SHOPPERS returning to market town high streets are set to find some council car parking charges have been suspended in a move designed to boost the local economy, while fees on other council parking places just yards away are being rigorously enforced.

Hambleton District Council’s leader Councillor Mark Robson announced visitors to its car parks would not face fees until January 3 as part of its plan to help the local economy get back on its feet in the wake of Covid-19.

The York and North Yorkshre local enterprise partnership has estimated the area’s economy will drop by 7.6 per cent as a result of the pandemic, equating to a decrease of £1.5bn and 31,000 individuals becoming newly unemployed.

A meeting of the authority’s Cabinet heard the car parks action was among a number of practical measures being taken despite the loss of car parking charges and income from its leisure centres over the pandemic.

Members were told a £1.7m black hole had opened up in the council’s finances by the end of September. The meeting heard the council was not holding out hope the Government would reimburse the majority of its Covid-19 costs and there was potential for the £1.7m loss in income to increase further.

“Covid19 has had a massive impact on our economy with businesses across all sectors affected”, the council’s deputy leader, Councillor Peter Wilkinson, told the meeting. He said while the full impact of the pandemic would not be known for some time, the recovery plan would lead towards the ultimate recovery of the economy.

Cllr Mark Robson said: “It’s a moving feast. We were told right at the outset in March ‘we are all in it together, do what you need to do, you’ll be supported’. Let’s see what the final outcome is, but I suspect there will be some significant costs to this authority.”

The meeting was told suspending charges at its car parks would help address the significant challenges faced by local businesses over the last nine months, with restrictions on trading, difficulty in accessing the market and changes to consumer trading habits.

Cllr Robson expressed disappointment that North Yorkshire County Council had decided not to relax its charges on places such as Northallerton High Street, as has happened in numerous towns surrounding Hambleton district.

However, the county council’s highways executive member, Councillor Don Mackenzie described Hambleton council’s decision to suspend car parking charges as “perfect”.

He said the county council’s parking charges were designed to manage town centre traffic and the move by Hambleton would provide further incentive for motorists to park away from high streets.

Cllr Mackenzie said: “We want people to use car parks rather than clutter up our town centre streets.”

He highlighted the county council had increased the amount of free car parking time on Northallerton High Street to an hour.