TOWN centre parking charges should be scrapped to help independent shopkeepers keep on to their business, a business group has argued.
The move would increase footfall, make town centres a more attractive place to do business and reduce the number of vacant shops, according to the Forum of Private Business.
It is lobbying councils on the issue as they start to prepare their budget plans for 2013/14 year, which are normally announced at the end of February.
The Forum’s head of policy, Alex Jackman, said: “There are so many good reasons why all councils should be considering something along these lines, but first and foremost would be to help retailers through another tough trading year.
“High streets across the country are under threat and have been for many years now from the likes of out-of-town shopping centres where parking is universally free. Then there’s the internet and the rise of e-tailers taking an increasingly bigger slice of a shrinking consumer pie.
“It doesn’t take a genius to work out that councils charging people ever more for the privilege of coming in to their town centres to spend their hard earned cash is not the best plan to grow footfall. Set it against a backdrop of spiralling motoring costs and it’s a recipe for disaster.”
An estimated 15,000 town centre shops closed their doors for good between 2000 and 2009, but an additional 10,000 shut up shop in 2010 and 2011.
Mr Jackman said: “If councils want to see fewer empty properties blighting their high streets, then axing car parking charges is something they must look at.
“It’s no longer acceptable to just offer free parking at Christmas to help traders during the festive period, a tactic in itself which shows councils do understand the link between free parking and increased trade.
“If councils want thriving town centres with improved occupancy levels then they need to take drastic action without delay.”
He said that trading conditions in the year ahead were forecast to remain challenging for small shops.
“It doesn’t look like trading conditions are going to get much better for retailers next year: weak growth, rising business costs, reduced returns for investors and consumer spending that is now the same as 2002 levels. And the internet is only going to get stronger,” said Mr Jackman.
“The Government has done its bit by extending Small Business Rate Relief in the Autumn Statement, now it’s the turn of councils to do likewise with free car parking, or any kind of concession for motorists that entices shoppers in to their local town centre.”