I FEEL I must chide our MP, Peter Gibson, for criticising one of the more sensible decisions made by Darlington council’s recently departed Conservative regime: the scrapping of the two-hour “free” parking scheme (Echo, July 20).

Actually, he blames the LabLib coalition, which now rules the council, so he must not have realised that the current council budget was set by the Tories before the election, which they knew they would lose.

Their budget contains no mention of spending the £1.7m a year needed to continue the “free” scheme now that the Tees Valley Combined Authority’s funding for it has ended.

Other cash-strapped local councils along the Tees have made similar decisions.

What Darlington Tories did do in the budget was plan to overspend the council’s expected annual income by £7.5m, on average, for each of the next four years.

That adds up to £30m of profligacy, yet the council’s cash reserves stand at only £23m, so the borough will, effectively, be bankrupt by this month in 2026.

But that’s without allocating more money to continue the “free” parking scheme.

Otherwise the borough would go bust even sooner. It’s not as if “free” parking is effective at increasing town centre footfall.

Calculations indicate that the “free” scheme costs around £55 for each driver who would have come into town anyway, many on the bus, on a bike or on foot.

Then there’s the notinconsiderable issue of global warming and the need for sustainable public transport.

Bus companies keep cutting services in Darlington, blaming lack of passengers and funding.

Darlington Green Party recently launched a petition calling for better public transport after listening to a groundswell of passengers’ anger about cuts and unreliability.

It has not had the media publicity given to Mr Gibson’s petition encouraging greater car use and pollution.

And I’ll bet that a petition for better bus services to get more people into town cheaply and contribute to carbon capture won’t get a mention in Parliament by our MP.

If we have to go bankrupt, mainly because of the Government’s year-upon-year austere cuts to councils’ income, wouldn’t better buses be a more justifiable excuse than expensive and polluting “free” parking?

Peter Greenwood, Darlington.