Two hours’ free parking is to continue in Darlington town centre for another three months – despite “glaring conflicts” in the policy.

Darlington Borough Council is spending £475,000 on extending the offer in council-operated car parks and pay-and-display areas for three months.

It has been funded by the Tees Valley Combined Authority, but that ends this year, and the council says it wants to support businesses through the winter.

“It is recognised that the council cannot sustain free parking offers endlessly,” says a council report.

“However, it is the strong desire of the administration that the council should continue to support the town centre with a continued short-term period of parking offers to support the recovery through the more difficult post-Christmas trading period until April 2023.”

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Council leader Councillor Jonathan Dulston told a cabinet meeting: “I firmly believe that it’s important that this council if possible continues to support businesses in challenging times as we all bounce back.

“This council stands ready to continue its overarching commitment of creating economic growth and we see this as the central point of success for the borough and residents moving forward.”

The council has acknowledged the policy puts the town centre’s recovery over other goals like promoting sustainable transport and tackling climate change.

Also, bus companies say free parking offers harm bus use, but the council’s report says there is “a real challenge with performance and reliability” of buses.

Cllr Cyndi Hughes asked how the parking plan sat with the borough’s transport plan and whether it would undermine struggling bus services.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Cyndi Hughes. Picture: Stuart Boulton.Cllr Cyndi Hughes. Picture: Stuart Boulton.

Cllr Matthew Snedker said the report was “a bit slim” and lacked detail on value for money.

Cllr Dulston said: “It does conflict in the short term with some of our other priorities.

“Speaking to businesses on the ground, it’s tough and I acknowledge that.

“My overarching priority is making sure that businesses succeed as we go into a very challenging quarter in January and those fantastic businesses that are absolutely central to the success of Darlington longer term have that additional support in the next few months.

“We as a council have loads of aspirations and loads of things that we’ll focus on, but in the here and now economic growth, or economic survival for some businesses, has to be the overarching priority.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Jonathan Dulston. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Jonathan Dulston. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

“We understand that bus travel is also a key sustainable way of travelling across the borough and we’ll continue to promote that as much as we can.

“We have a number of demands on the council and we have to best navigate all of those conflicts. We think that in the short term this strikes the correct balance.

“Ultimately we stand ready to support businesses and ensure that we have a strong vibrant economy.

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“If we have independent traders and successful businesses in our town then we’ll continue to grow the economy and that will in turn allow the council to grow and be able provide the much-needed services that residents want and need.

“In the short term, there is absolutely glaring conflicts within what we’re trying to do with sustainable transport, what we’re trying to do with the environment.

“But in the here and now, my absolute firm commitment is to those businesses.”

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