A FLAGSHIP scheme designed to drive business into Newcastle’s retail outlets and pour millions into the city’s economy has been given a six-year extension.
Fears had been raised that the city’s Alive After Five programme – which provides free parking between 5pm and 8pm – could face the axe as sweeping council cuts were enforced.
But business improvement company NE1 has agreed to plough extra funds into the initiative which has seen a £157m boost to the city’s economy in just two years. Last night Sean Bullick, chief executive of NE1, said the initiative had been extended to 2019 but would be subject to a successful renewal ballot vote among the city’s businesses in October.
He said: “The benefit of Alive After Five goes far beyond the retail sector. The city’s universities and professional services companies benefit from having a more cosmopolitan and attractive city centre offer for their employees and students, and the city’s bars, restaurants and cultural venues also benefit from the free parking after 5pm element of the initiative. Free parking has always been highlighted as absolutely critical.”
The Alive After Five scheme has seen an extra two million additional visitors attracted to Eldon Square alone after 5pm in its first year.
It’s estimated that shops on Northumberland Street experienced an increased footfall of 7% last year against a national average of 2.9% decline for towns and cities. And it’s thought that retailers experience between 15 and 20% of their incomes between 5pm and 8pm.
Since the scheme was first introduced in 2010, NE1 has shouldered a 50% share of the £300,000 annual lost revenue to the council, but will now pay £200,000 of the bill.
Parking increases had been proposed in Newcastle Council's budget, though these have now been revised as a result of the business intervention. In order to raise more income the council are planning to hike up the cost of all day Sunday parking, with charges going up by £1.
Isabella Miller, managing director of John Lewis, said: “John Lewis Newcastle is delighted NE1 and the council have secured free parking after 5pm until 2019.
“Free parking after 5pm makes it easier for our customers to shop and eat later, it gives them a greater choice of when to shop and helps to fit around their busy lifestyles. We have seen increased footfall between 5pm and 8pm since free parking was introduced, and feedback from our customers has been positive. It is great to know that our customers will benefit from this offer until 2019.”
Aileen McCall, store manager at Primark, on Northumberland Street, said: “The city centre needs real investment to make it a more attractive proposition for both the public and new businesses looking to invest.”
Alive After Five sees extended retail opening hours until 8pm, Monday to Friday, and 7pm on Saturday. It provides free car parking after 5pm in the council’s seven city centre multi-storey car parks.
Phil Steele, the general manager of Eldon Square, said: “Eldon Square applauds Newcastle City Council’s decision not to increase parking charges in the city centre. Having affordable parking is of vital importance to our customers, facilitating excellent access to our shopping facilities.
“We recognise and appreciate the support received from NE1, who have worked closely with the council to avoid an increase in parking charges.”
John Lewis Newcastle is delighted NE1 and the council have secured free parking after 5pm until 2019