THOUSANDS of extra cars came to Newport city centre last year after two hours’ free parking was first introduced, according to a cabinet report published at the time.

The report, which was compiled in July 2011 under the previous Conservative administration, also showed a significant boost in sales by traders.

But as we reported last month, the council is 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 and 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.”

The cabinet report which went before the then Newport council cabinet member for street services, David Fouweather, stated: “A survey of city centre traders revealed that 29.5 per cent of those returning the questionnaire has noted an increase in trade and 80 per cent of those attributed this rise to the parking initiative.”

A separate shopping survey, carried out by the Newport council corporate policy and performance team in March 2011, was sent to a mixture of the Newport Citizens panel and Newport council employees.

The survey showed that residents’ most favoured suggestion for encouraging more people to shop in Newport was better parking in the city, “for example making it cheaper, free or more accessible”.

In February last year there was a “stark increase in the number of cars” parked across multi-storey and pay-and-display car parks, with 2,143 more cars using the facilities.

The Cambrian car park alone saw an increase of 12 per cent compared to the same period in 2010, with 3,162 extra cars parking there.

In April last year 8,086 more cars used multi-storeys and pay-and-display car parks compared to 2010, while inMay 7,968 extra cars used the facilities.

However, the report states that this resulted in a loss of £71,197 in parking revenue in April, and £72,256 in May 2011 but it recognised the figures were exaggerated due to the increase of cars brought about by free parking. The scheme was extended for a further 12 months due to the results.

 ‘Chamber of trade let us down’

THE failure of Newport Chamber of Trade to fight for free parking in the city centre was a “kick in the teeth” to traders, according to one independent Newport retailer.

Phae Cole, owner of Bethan, in Newport Arcade, was responding to comments by Alan Edwards, president of Newport Chamber of Trade, who told the Argus that two hours’ free parking was a “plaster on a broken artery” and more shops were needed.

Mr Edwards told the Argus last week that when asked about council proposals to scrap the parking scheme, the chamber of trade did not fight to keep it.

Responding, Ms Cole said that business owners such as herself are the people the chamber of trade is meant to be representing.

She said: “To not fight for (free parking) when we are the people they are supposed to be fighting for, it is a kick in the teeth for traders.”

Ms Cole said the free parking initiative, introduced by Newport council in December 2010, came about as a result of a meeting between the council and traders, where all traders called for it.

Ms Cole also called for discounts in business rates given to charity shops to be shared among other businesses.

“Charity shops are not the way to regenerate,” she said.