Calls for free parking to be re-introduced across Wakefield to boost the local economy
Free car parking should be re-introduced across the Wakefield district to boost the local economy, a senior opposition councillor has said.
Nadeem Ahmed, who leads the council's Conservative group, has called for all parking charges to be scrapped until at least Christmas.
But with local businesses still under huge pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, Councillor Ahmed said the fees should be axed again to make Wakefield and other local town centres more attractive to shoppers.
He said: "I think at the moment a lot of businesses are facing serious damage, some of which is probably irreparable.
"When parking was free during lockdown this year there was really good feedback from people I knew and and from people on social media as well.
"Lockdown restrictions are getting harsher and that's going to have an impact on the numbers of people coming into the city centre. The likes of independent coffee shops and hairdressers are really struggling.
"This is just something we can do at a local level to keep the fire stoked a bit.
"I just feel this could give us the edge over places like Dewsbury and Morley and make people think, "Do you know what? The parking's free today - I'm going to head into Wakefield"."
Coun Ahmed will petition for free parking to be re-introduced at a full council meeting next week and said he hopes the call is backed by the controlling Labour group.
The issue has divided the two parties before in pre-coronavirus times, with Labour's Cabinet member for transport saying in 2019 that permanent free parking could come at the expense of crowding out visitors and customers.
Financial hurdles may also prove a barrier, given the council is facing a potential £40m black hole in its accounts because of the pandemic.
But Councillor Ahmed insisted the idea was cost effective.
He said: "The money we lose over the next few months we'd make back from people getting jobs again and through businesses making revenue again.
"I think it's worth losing out on a short-term financial gain for that.
"I'm not being political with this. I really hope Labour support it and I'm not bothered who gets the credit for it.
"If we do it, then private car parks might look at it as well and question whether it's worth charging people £2 or £3 to park."
Local Democracy Reporting Service