Visitor numbers to council-owned car parks in Darlington town centre have declined after a two-hour free parking offer was scrapped. 

Parking charges were reintroduced in council-operated car parking facilities following the end of funding in July - a move that was agreed by the previous Conservative-led administration but not renewed by the new Labour-led leadership. 

Now, a Darlington Borough Council report on town centre transport sheds light on public transport usage since the scheme was scrapped. 

The report states: “The number of pay and display tickets issued has decreased since June 2023, but remained consistent through July and August 2023.” 

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Despite that, the income from parking ticketing in both July and August exceeded pre-offer years and current data suggests that the average length of stay in council-operated parking areas has increased. 

Overall footfall throughout the town centre in 2023 is lower than 2022, the council says, including when the two-hour free parking offer was active. 

Meanwhile, the amount of people boarding buses in the town centre is also up on average by 13 per cent across the first quarter of 2023 compared to 2022.

The local authority added that it is currently exploring options to upgrade pay and display machines to include card facilities and to implement pay-by-phone in all council-operated locations.

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Over two thousand people signed a petition from the town’s MP Peter Gibson, calling on the local authority to keep the two hours free parking offer which was originally introduced by the Conservatives in 2019.

The Conservative said he launched the campaign after being contacted by dozens of concerned local businesses and residents. He presented the petition in the House of Commons in July. 

“I have had lots of conversations with residents and business owners about the impact of withdrawing the two hours free parking offer, people are genuinely concerned, and have already begun to see a decline,” he said.