NORTH Oxfordshire residents are set to benefit from three days of free parking over Christmas, but council bosses have rejected calls to permanently axe fees.
Cherwell District Council will waive charges on Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Bicester and Banbury from December 1 to January 7.
It is in response to a petition by traders that calls for three hours free parking throughout the year.
Deputy leader George Reynolds said: “We know the current economic climate is proving difficult for many.
“The thinking behind this plan is that everyone will benefit, from residents to traders and those from outside the district who might choose to visit.
“It will be costly but we believe it will be worth it if trade can be given a boost for the festive season.”
But he said long-term free parking is “just not feasible at the moment”, saying the six weeks will lose the council £100,000.
The move – to be agreed by its executive on November 5 – will be funded by underspends, a surplus on income and Government cash set aside following a review by retail consultant Mary Portas.
In the last financial year to April, the council made £1.8m from parking and £381,445 from April to June against a target of £354,149. Charges vary from 60p to £2.80.
Reaction to the announcement has been mixed.
Banbury and District Chamber of Commerce chairman Claire Kingsbury said: “It’s better than nothing. To be honest, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Lynn Wright, owner of Bicester Beds, in Market Square, said: “It is fantastic. There should be free parking all the time, but limited to two hours – then there’s a flow of people into the centre.”
Keith Wadley, of electrical store Wadley’s in Bicester, said: “I think it’s a positive move for the town.
“Friday, Saturday and Sunday would have been better.”
But Malcolm Douglas, who runs Henry’s menswear store in High Street, Banbury, said: “It is a sop.
“We need a proper sustainable free parking period.
“The town will degenerate if we do not get all the help we can.”
And Barry Whitehouse, who runs The Artery in Church Lane, Banbury, said the petition had gathered more than 2,000 signatures. He said: “It is a good thing because it is a big time of year for retailers, 30 per cent of our annual takings are between now and Christmas.”
WHAT OTHER COUNCILS DO
Oxford City Council: Charges range from 70p to £30.30 for up to 24 hours but there’s no free parking.
The council has no plans for free parking over Christmas.
West Oxfordshire District Council: Parking is free in all its 16 car parks.
Vale of White Horse District Council: Began offering two hours free parking in the day from December. Daily charges range from £1 to £5.30 but parking is free all day in Botley.
Vale will offer one day free parking in December.
South Oxfordshire District Council: Charges range from 70p to £3.30 at its 19 car parks and parking was made free on Saturday afternoons from April. Sundays are free.
The council will offer one day’s free parking for each week in December.
FREE CAR PARKS
Cherwell District Council’s car parks that will be free over the Christmas period (Number of spaces in brackets):
Market Square (30)
Chapel Brook (10)
Franklins Yard (68)
Victoria Road (27)
Cattle Market (270)
Curtis Place (145)
Market Place (40)
Horsefair West (36)
Calthorpe Street (95)
South Bar (118)
North Bar (64)
The Mill (33)
Chamberlaine Court (52)
Windsor Street (116)
Spiceball North (70)
Spiceball Park Road (80)
Compton Road (80)