A COUNCIL working to reverse a decline in visitors to a town centre has dismissed criticism that its car parking offers are bad for the environment and sees public money being spent just on motorists.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet has approved proposals to introduce free parking on Sundays November 1 in all council-operated pay and display car parks, Feethams multi-storey car park and on-street pay and display parking bays.

The authority’s leading members also agreed the parking offer introduced by the previous Labour administration in June last year should be continued to offer two hours free car parking in some car parks outside of the ring road. The meeting also heard plans were being developed to increase parking spaces in the Duke Street and the Imperial Quarter areas.

Labour councillor Chris McEwan highlighted the £205,000 of car parking charges lost as a result of the offers would mean less funding for another council service.

He added: “I have a number of residents approach me who are non-car owners and they have expressed some concern that there is some discrimination against bus travellers.”

Green councillor Matthew Snedker said the parking offers flew in the face of the authority declaring a climate change emergency in July.

He said: “We know that the primary driver of pollution in Darlington is car traffic and the offers aimed to get more cars in the town centre. We are spending a lot more money bribing or subsidising car drivers and how that portrays us as a council that’s signed a climate emergency, that the first rabbit out of the hat is ‘let’s pump some more money in the way of car drivers’.”

He said while it was often claimed that car parking charges are a problem for the high street, studies had not supported that, but had found sustainable transport investment had a bigger impact on improving retail.

Cllr Snedker: “Maybe it is retailers who are frightened and grasping at straws saying we need free parking.”

The council’s leisure and local environment boss Paul Howell said the objective of the initiative was to encourage Darlington car drivers who head to shopping centres such as Teesside Park to take shorter journeys to the town centre. He said: “We will support buses, cycles all the different modes of transport. It needs to be an integrated offer to try and make sure we deliver the town centre in its best place.”

The authority’s leader Councillor Heather Scott added: “We have got to encourage people to walk, cycle and use the buses, but it is not appropriate or available to everybody. The town centre group of traders have welcomed this, and they have to do their part as well, so it is to encourage them to do more trading on a Sunday.”