Chester’s ‘Free after 3’ discounted parking scheme will stop in the new year, it has been revealed.
Labour -led Cheshire West and Chester Council has now confirmed the popular offer, which allows free parking at certain city centre car parks after 3pm, is ‘ending in January’ but with no set date as yet.
Chester Conservatives have slammed the move fearing it will hit the local economy and residents hard in the pocket.
And Tory councillors have rubbished a proposed trial to make the city’s park and ride service free after 2pm on just one day during the week.
Conservative group leader Cllr Lynn Riley (Frodsham) said: “We understand that the council has to make money, but this move hasn’t been thought through properly.
“Cheshire West and Chester Conservatives ran a well-supported campaign to save what was free parking after 3pm. The majority of residents, visitors and businesses backed us, but it seems the council are not listening.”
When ‘Free after 3’ parking ends, the council has suggested a number of possible replacements such as Free after 2pm for park and ride users and ‘spend and save’ – with retailers partly refunding parking charges if customers spend over a certain amount.
But Cllr Riley believes these proposals are just ‘desperate measures’ by Labour with no long-term vision.
She added: “Labour have spent over £1m on consultants to come up with these parking plans and new ticket machines, but with little thought about the long term implications. It’s clear that free parking is a thing of Christmas past and the future will see charges roll out in many areas for the first time in the new year.
“Introducing a ‘Free after 2pm’ for park and ride customers during the week isn’t going to help the majority of people who want to come into Chester. We want to ‘drive’ people to visit our amazing city and its diverse retail centres but these days people have many choices.”
Handbridge Park Tory councillor Neil Sullivan commented: “Free after 3 parking is vital to Chester’s economy. As part of our campaign to save Chester’s free parking, we have been speaking to people across the borough who know it’s the ability to pop into town and park for free which makes people come and spend in Chester’s shops.
Fellow Conservative Cllr Pamela Hall (Great Boughton) said: “This policy is short sighted and will have huge implications for people across the city. People's livelihoods are at risk, and this is yet another nail in the coffin for many of our smaller and independent businesses.
“It’s all very well saying they are replacing it with ‘retail discounts’ but what does that actually mean? And what about the people who are coming in to go to their dentist or a legal appointment?
"Busy hard working Chester residents just want to know that if they come into town after 3pm they can park for free – cut the gimmicks and just keep our free parking!”
The Conservatives say their petition against the changes, launched in September, has been signed by thousands of people across the borough.
“We will continue to raise this subject in our council meetings and press the council to reverse a decision which we know will affect Chester’s businesses in a disastrous way,” added Cllr Hall.