Carmarthenshire traders' concern over plans to scrap free parking at Christmas
FREE parking for shoppers in Carmarthenshire in the run-up to Christmas may be axed.
The county council's executive board is to consider ending the two-week boost for trade in Llanelli, Ammanford and Carmarthen.
Instead shoppers would be allowed to park for free in council-owned car parks for a week early in the new year.
But the trade-off has been branded as "worse than useless" — drawing criticism from across the county.
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A report going before Monday's meeting said car parks were always full in the run-up to Christmas and shoppers should be encouraged in to town centres during quieter periods.
President of Llanelli's Chamber of Trade Andrew Stephens, who is also manager of the St Elli Shopping Centre, said the decision would be "really disappointing" if it went ahead.
He said: "The chamber has campaigned every year for this albeit generous and costly concession in recent years that has helped give traders a level playing field against the out-of-town retail parks that have free parking.
"While I have to agree it is a busy time everywhere, it has to be remembered that there is something in a shopper's psyche about free parking that is a magnet."
Councillors suggested trading the pre-Christmas period for free parking after 3pm all year round, with traders in Carmarthen collecting a 600-name petition supporting the idea.
"It would encourage shoppers to come into town a little later in the day, which traders agreed would benefit smaller shops in the town centre," said Councillor Jeff Thomas.
And Councillor Alun Lenny added: "The executive board's recommendation is worse than useless. They wish to deprive people of free parking for the complete Christmas period, while giving very little in return."
The council said despite cutbacks it had worked hard to support traders, with free parking in Llanelli and Ammanford during recent major regeneration projects.
It said four hours' free parking after 10am at all its public car parks would cost about £28,000, with the provision of pre-Christmas free parking in the past resulting in a loss of £70,000.
The report concluded: "Free parking in the new year in the three county towns would strike a balance between managing space and providing a more targeted economic stimulus."