JUST under two weeks ago Newport City Council announced it was to introduce free parking for up to five hours for shoppers in the city centre over Christmas.

Shoppers’ parking in the council’s Park Square and Cambrian multi-storey car parks will get the first five hours of their stay free, with other councilowned pay and display car parks, including on Emlyn Street, Faulkner Road and Hill Street, costing just 10p for the first five hours.

This would follow on from the current council scheme, which allows people to park free for the first two hours in all their city centre car parks, an idea introduced two years ago which the council acknowledges has seen footfall in the city centre rise.

It was a move hailed by hard-up traders across the city desperate for a glimmer of hope in these tough economic times.

But, as we reported on Monday, the council has now decided to axe the two hours free scheme, describing it as “no longer sustainable.”

Councillor Ken Critchley, cabinet member for infrastructure, said: “Free parking costs the council almost £1 million a year, which is no longer sustainable at a time when central budgets are facing significant cuts. We face a funding gap next year of £8 million.

“To continue to offer free parking would adversely impact on other services such as street cleaning, waste collection and road repairs.”

Cllr Critchley said comparisons with Cwmbran Shopping were unfair as the car parks are operated by the same company which owns the shopping centre, so they are able to balance rental income from traders with the cost of free parking, something Newport can’t do as it does not receive rental income.

He also pointed out that the council felt it was not an appropriate time to ask traders to contribute financially to sustain free parking, as is the case in the Business Improvement District in Swansea.

The Kingsway Shopping Centre will maintain its policy of free parking for the first two hours for shoppers.