Calls to scrap parking charges across County Durham in a bid to kickstart a post-pandemic recovery have been rejected.

Opposition leaders called for the move, estimated to cost £700,000 as part of a bid to boost visitor number towns and villages across the county.

But while bosses turned down the proposal in its current form, they promised to revisit it to see if a more targeted policy could be effective, rather than the blanket one initially proposed.

“The logic behind it is simple,” said Richard Bell, leader of Durham County Council’s opposition Conservative group.

“It is the obvious thing to do to increase footfall, stimulate our high streets and stimulate the economy as we come out of Covid.

“Neighbouring councils in Tees Valley, like Darlington, have already done it, Northallerton has done it, and they all report positive effects on traders and footfall.”

Cllr Bell was speaking at Wednesday's meeting of the county council to agree spending plans for 2021/22, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

According to the budget amendment proposed by the Conservatives, the £700,000 cost of scrapping the council’s car parking fees could be covered by the £15.6 million allocated to the council through the government’s COVID Support Grant.

They also added planned investment in places such as Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor would be to little effect if steps were not taken to boost footfall.

But while some merits of the plan were accepted, other concerns were raised.

Carl Marshall, cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Spaces could be taken up from non-council parking or from people who already work in the centres which would not benefit footfall.

“There is also the impact on on-street parking and our parks, such as the Riverside in Chester-le-Street and Hardwick Park, where car parks have operated at capacity throughout the majority of the pandemic.

“However, I will ask officers to bring forward a report on measures to increase footfall in our town centres.

“This will fully consider the options for free parking and look to extend the opportunities for free parking, but will also consider the wider issues of what attracts people into our town centres and what more can be done.”