NEWPORT council has defended its position to cut free parking at its car parks after Christmas.

The Argus reported on Monday how the council has decided to axe a two-year-old scheme which allowed shoppers to park in council-owned multi-storey car parks for free for two hours.

Cllr Ken Critchley, cabinet member for infrastructure, told the Argus yesterday that free parking had led to an increase in footfall in Newport’s city centre and said traders asked if they could provide a longer period so people would stay for longer.

But he said that providing this free parking costs almost £1 million a year which he said is “no longer sustainable” at a time when central budgets are facing significant cuts, with a funding gap of around £8 million expected next year.

He said that to continue to offer free parking would adversely impact on other services such as street cleaning, waste collection and road repairs.

Cllr Critchley said the council had tried to offer the best option in difficult financial circumstances and came up with the compromise of a £1 charge for three hours.

He said it hoped this will still encourage people to visit the city centre and stay for longer.

He said this fee, which comes into effect on February 1, was also cheaper than the current cost of staying for three hours and would help pay for the car parks’ maintenance and other services in the city centre.

The council realised it was important to support the city’s retailers and so had offered the five hours’ free parking leading up to Christmas and during the January sales period, which will cost the council around £79,000.

He said somewhere like Cwmbran Shopping was able to balance rental income from traders with free parking but that Newport council did not receive rental income from retailers in Newport and that business rates were set nationally.

He said: “Wedid not feel it was appropriate at this time to ask traders to contribute financially to sustain free parking” – something he said the business improvement district was asked to do in Swansea.

Cllr Critchely said the £1 fee for three hours in Newport will also be lower than other local councils, pointing to Monmouthshire, which charges £1.30, and Rhondda Cynon Taff, where there is a £2.30 fee.