Free parking in Wakefield 'is not forever', council warns as charges scrapped until January
Blanket free car parking across the Wakefield district "won't be forever", the council's ruling Labour group has warned.
The local authority has scrapped all charges at its car parks from today (Thursday) until January 18 next year.
It follows the success of a similar scheme which ran between late March and early July.
Wakefield's Conservative councillors, who've lobbied hard for free parking for several years, welcomed the move but accused Labour of "backtracking" over the issue.
But Labour's portfolio holder for transport, Matthew Morley, said the decision was appropriate now to help struggling businesses back to their feet.
He added that although "some elements" of free parking may be retained after January, the public should not expect all charges to be scrapped permanently.
Speaking at a full council meeting on Wednesday, Coun Morley said: "We've had many discussions over free car parking over the years.
"But we're living in completely different times, so it's right we introduce free parking now.
"But when times do come back to where things were, blanket free car parking doesn't work.
"I've already received emails from local shopkeepers expressing concerns that parking spaces won't be turned over as quickly as they have been previously.
"We'll carry on these conversations over in the next financial year, and there may be some elements of free parking we can do then."
In response to Labour's claim it had listened to residents' views on the matter, Conservative councillor Nick Farmer accused the ruling party of not listening to city centre businesses when it briefly pedestrianised Northgate this summer.
The local authority U-turned over that move after heavy criticism from some shops and Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan.
Coun Farmer, who represents the Ossett ward added: "These are unprecedented times. I'm pleased that you're bringing the scheme back.
"But perhaps Councillor Morley would like to admit he made a mistake in not carrying it on after July, because it certainly didn't help the businesses in my ward."
Coun Morley responded: "At the end of the day, we've had budget cuts.
"The money we get from parking goes back into highway maintenance, so we have to think about that as well.
"We have to listen to businesses. The feedback we had from the original scheme from local residents and businesses was good, so we've reintroduced it and I'm sure it'll go down well.
"But we can't sustain it forever. We have to look at what elements of free parking we can sustain and we can afford and roll them out."
Local Democracy Reporting Service