A PROMOTION which enables motorists to park for free in Chester city centre after 3pm is to continue.

Originally a 12-week trial, the Free after Three parking initiative at the Market, Gorse Stacks and St Anne Street car parks was extended until the end of the life of Chester City Council.

Council spokesman Ian Callister confirmed the scheme will continue under the new Tory-controlled Cheshire West and Chester Council, which took over on April 1.

The announcement follows the introduction of a similar scheme in Ellesmere Port which also comes under the umbrella of the new council. The former Vale Royal council area will continue to offer free parking.

In Chester, Free after Three was ushered in during 2008 after a campaign by retailers to win back shoppers who were deserting Chester in their thousands.

A Chester city centre management footfall survey claimed a 20% increase in the number of motorists using Gorse Stacks and market car parks following its launch. But opinion has always been divided over how successful it has been.

There was a storm in a political teacup earlier this year as Conservative-controlled Chester City Council was nearing its end, when Labour and Lib Dems voted against plans to continue with the scheme.

The Tory administration claimed the decision could seriously damage the local economy during the downturn but the vote was meaningless because the committee did not have the power to change policy.

Stephen Mosley, the former deputy city council leader, said: “Free After Three was introduced by the Conservatives to encourage shoppers back to Chester and it has worked.”