Free parking in Hucknall and Ashfield has boosted footfall but cost the council £40,000

Offering two hours free parking in towns like Hucknall has increased footfall in town centres – but at cost of tens of thousands of pounds in income to Ashfield District Council.

By Andrew Topping
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 4:45 pm

Leading councillors say the policy has been ‘really, really good’ for the area’s local economies, and say the financial loss is only a negative when viewed ‘in isolation’.

Council documents show the authority is reporting £40,000 in car parking income losses since the start of the pandemic, which councillors say is mostly the result of the two hours free policy.

The scheme was introduced by the Ashfield Independent-led authority during the pandemic in a move to encourage more people to ‘shop local and visit town centres on a regular basis’.

Two hours free parking in council car parks like Piggins Croft has been good for footfall but has cost the authority £40,000. Photo: Google

However, despite the losses, the council says the policy has allowed town centre footfall across Sutton, Kirkby and Hucknall to increase close to pre-pandemic levels.

And councillors praised the offer during a cabinet meeting on March 29, suggesting it also helps to support Ashfield’s residents.

Coun Samantha Deakin (Ash Ind) is the authority’s portfolio holder for parks, town centres and neighbourhood services.

She said: “If you look at it in isolation, it says we’ve had a loss from our car parking after rolling out the two hours for free.

“But if you look at the footfall for town centres, it’s starting to rise and rise significantly back to pre-Covid levels.

“While the figures might suggest a decrease in parking (income), actually it’s really, really good for our town centres and the effect it can have on residents.”

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Coun Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), council leader, added that the authority had a balanced budget and believes it should not see car parks as a ‘cash cow’.

He said: “Two hours of free parking is essential to regenerating our town centres.

“Shoppers and businesses absolutely need it and I think it’s the right thing to do.

“We’ve balanced our books and we’ve got a very good budget.

"Yes, we’ve taken a hit on car parks, but I don’t think we should be seeing it as a cash cow.

“It’s a simple thing, allowing them to go and shop, have a cup of coffee and support local businesses.”

The offer is available in all council-run car parks district-wide, with the administration planning to extend the scheme until at least next year’s election.

It comes as the same documents show the council is reporting £774,000 in overall costs and losses resulting from Covid-19.

This includes £308,000 in lost income on its hotel investment due to lockdowns and Covid restrictions and a further £139,000 in losses following the re-assignment of its Grangemouth investment property.

The Grangemouth re-assignment also cost the authority £76,000 during the same period.

The authority also reported £150,000 in losses from housing benefit overpayments and £18,000 from community centres.

Additional costs to the authority during the pandemic include spending £2,000 on a vaccine hesitancy publicity campaign and £14,000 in increased motor insurance spending.

These motor insurance costs, the council documents add, are the result of an ‘increased number of vehicles for social distancing’.

This includes additional vehicles for environmental maintenance, waste collection and community protection, which cost the authority £5,000, £6,000 and £1,000 respectively.

And a further £14,000 was spent on agency costs for the waste team, with £1,000 spent on PPE.