Traders said a free parking scheme for Northampton town centre could help transform its fortunes as a shopping destination, and stem the flow of people going to Milton Keynes.
Free parking schemes will be offered every day at four car parks, under new budget plans unveiled by Northampton Borough Council this week.
These proposals in the 2014-15 draft budget would enable motorists to park free for up to two hours on weekdays and all day on Saturday. Parking is already free on Sundays.
The changes apply to the St John’s, St Michael’s, Mayorhold and the Grosvenor Centre multi-storey car parks.
The council said the move would cost it £664,783 in lost charges, but would encourage more people to come into the town centre, as shown by a successful trial in August.
Milton Keynes charges up to £1.40 an hour to park, and is 20 miles from Northampton.
Sue Roberts, chairman of Northampton BID, said: “This shows the town is open for business and we want people to come to us.
“Northampton is not like walking into a big warehouse. We’ve got a variety of independent stores which give you a much more interesting shopping experience, independent cafes and restaurants and charming pubs. It is a traditional town centre shopping experience.”
Many traders agreed with this outlook. Jonathan Williams, managing director of Montague Jeffery, in St Giles Street, said: “I think this is a superb idea, to be welcomed. Anything which will bring people into the town, and bring footfall back to the town centre, is to be congratulated.
“Lots of things are happening in Northampton and the town needs to get a positive message across.”
Roy Harland, managing director of Watts the Furnishers, in Abington Street, said: “Politically, we’ve had green policies to keep cars out of the town centre. People have got out of the habit of driving to the shops.
“We have got to get back to welcoming and encouraging the car customer. If footfall and car park figures grow, you will get more retailers.”