Free parking after 2pm in all council-owned County Durham car parks will end on December 31. 

Car parks in Durham City and Chester-le-Street as well as those in Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle and Spennymoor will all begin charging visitors in the afternoon.

Visitors will soon be charged at the same rates as earlier in the day. 

The scheme was introduced in April 2021 in a bid to entice visitors back to shops and other attractions following the coronavirus pandemic. 

But parking charges were reintroduced for on-street parking bays in Durham City in April, with the rest of the council’s car parks now following suit. 

Durham County Council hopes the charges will encourage shoppers to use public transport more. 

The local authority has also recently consulted residents on introducing parking charges at sites along the East Durham coast, at Seaham and Crimdon. 

County Durham Labour launched a petition against the move to introduce paid parking in the town, however,  after it argued the growth of local businesses are being risked by the plans to introduce parking charges in the town.

Opposition councillors claim that the charges not only threaten future growth, they will drive motorists to park on already congested residential streets, severely impacting businesses who rely on current visitor numbers.

Speaking earlier this year cllr Kevin Shaw, of Dawdon ward, said: “This reckless move would cull visitor numbers, force drivers onto residential streets causing nuisance to residents and massively impact on local businesses that depend on current visitor levels.”

The local authority says the new charges will provide another income stream and improve air quality. 

Dave Lewin, Durham County Council’s strategic traffic manager, said: “The free after 2pm parking offer was originally introduced in April 2021 as part of a package of temporary measures aimed at supporting residents and businesses in recovering from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The offer ended in on-street parking bays in Durham City from April 1 this year and charging after 2pm will be reinstated in all council-run off-street car parks across the county from January 1.

"Parking charges can help increase turnover of spaces, lower emissions and improve air quality. We also encourage people to use public transport or park and ride facilities when visiting the county’s centres.”

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In Durham, The Sands multi-storey; Sidegate and Providence Row will all begin charging after 2pm. 

And in Chester-le-Street, all short and long-stay car parks including the Riverside Leisure Complex will cost visitors in the afternoon. 

Notices have already been placed on the payment machines of all the affected car parks, the county council said.