Council's parking present

FREE Saturday parking will be on offer in Huntingdonshire market towns in the run-up to Christmas or the January sales, as forecast exclusively in The Hunts Post two weeks ago. But the offer, which will be available for up to four hours stay only once in

FREE Saturday parking will be on offer in Huntingdonshire market towns in the run-up to Christmas or the January sales, as forecast exclusively in The Hunts Post two weeks ago.

But the offer, which will be available for up to four hours' stay only once in the two-month period, generated a mixed reaction from traders' representatives.

A voucher will be included in the next issue of Huntingdonshire District Council's publication District Wide, which is distributed to every household in the district from November 24. The voucher will be valid in all HDC's fee-paying car parks in Huntingdon, Godmanchester, St Ives and St Neots. Parking is free in Ramsey anyway.

Shoppers who plan their purchases carefully could use the voucher, worth up to £3, in more than one town, said HDC's Sonia Hansen, who administers car parking in the district.


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The move follows a plea from the district's business leaders for the council to help encourage residents to do their Christmas shopping locally.

HDC has been looking at a raft of measures to help business during the economic downturn. This is the first of those initiatives.

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A spokesman said yesterday (Tuesday): "The decision to offer free parking is designed to encourage shoppers to stay local this Christmas and take advantage of the excellent mix of independent and high street shops that the district has to offer, whether it is to do Christmas shopping or a spot of bargain-hunting in the January sales."

Parking is free in all car parks on Sundays and after 6pm on weekdays, she added.

HDC's leader, Councillor Ian Bates, added: "We are on the edge of a recession, and we know many of our residents are feeling the effects of the 'credit crunch'. We are delighted to be able to help people save money during this time, which can be used on extra gifts or treats for loved ones."

John Bridge, chief executive of Huntingdonshire Chamber of Commerce, one of the business organisations that have been pressing for such a move, said: "We welcome this announcement. I'm sure residents will appreciate not having to pay to park on Saturdays, and I hope the offer gives our local traders an extra boost in the run-up to Christmas."

Mr Bridge hoped the move would be a springboard for further helps for traders. "We shall be monitoring it closely and pushing for the voucher scheme to be expended if it's successful," he told The Hunts Post. "Obviously, one voucher per family is limited, and we would hope to attract people from outside the district, too. But it's good to see the district council acknowledging that it has a part to play."

Malcolm Lyons, Huntingdonshire chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, which has several independent traders among its membership, wished the council had gone further.

"Anything to help the towns is good, but I feel this does not go far enough. In my experience people don't just shop once or only in one place.

"HDC is missing the plot slightly, when the economy is in jeopardy. An FSB survey this week showed one-and-a-half million small businesses at risk of going bust if the credit situation doesn't ease.

"Things are bad out there, and I wish the council would recognise that more. But I'm grateful for anything.

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