Hunts plea to let shoppers park free

HUNTINGDONSHIRE District Council is being urged by retailers to provide a short period of free parking to encourage shoppers to patronise the district’s market towns.

“It would be useful to the High Street to have some sort of gesture from the council,” said Malcolm Lyons, Huntingdonshire chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents many of the smaller local shops.

“Small businesses were banking on a good Christmas to make up for a bad year and the prospect of more bad news in 2011,” he said.

“Many shops and restaurants have taken on additional seasonal staff to cope with the anticipated demand of the season, but the weekend before Christmas saw a drop in footfall of up to 30 per cent, leaving businesses with increased overheads and falling trade.

“The last thing this Government needs is a wave of bankruptcies and shop closures in 2011, but small firms will find it very difficult to bounce back in the New Year when VAT increases to 20 per cent and the spending cuts start to bite.

“We need to see a co-ordinated effort from Government, banks, local authorities and landlords to give small businesses some breathing space to recover in the New Year.”

Mr Lyons was also concerned about another possible hike in Huntingdonshire’s car parking charges.

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“There is evidence that rising charges are making a real difference to retailers. As parking costs start to approach those in larger towns, people will choose to shop either out-of-town or in the larger places.”

HDC provided some free Christmas and New Year parking three years ago, but take-up was modest because it was restricted to edge-of-town-centre car parks. Parking is already free in Ramsey.