The number of visits made by shoppers to Northampton town centre fell by more than half a million in the past year, latest figures have shown.
Details released by Northampton Borough Council show the authority’s intelligent CCTV cameras counted a total of 15.3 million people in the town centre between April 2011 and April 2012.
Between April 2012 and April this year, that figure dropped to 14.6 million - a reduction of more than 600,000.
The leader of the authority, Councillor David Mackintosh (Con, Rectory Farm) blamed the drop on the national economic situation.
He said: “Across the country, we’re seeing the traditional high street is being affected by the current economic climate.
“People are changing the way they shop, and we’re all making tough choices about how and where we spend our money.
“Nationally, the Government is trying to address this, and in Northampton we’ve been working hard to support our town centre.”
The council leader highlighted improvements which are now being made to Abington Street and an increase in the number of hours people can park for free in the council’s multi-storey car parks.
But opposition Liberal Democrat politician, Councillor Brendan Glynane (Lib Dem, Delapre & Briar Hill) argued that the drop in shopper numbers suggested free parking was not the way to attract people to the town.
He said: “Free parking is simply not working and I don’t think it’s the way to go.
“People are probably not using their cars as much these days, so a better way to bring people into the town would be to invest in the bus service.”
He also argued fixing the Market Square fountain and holding more events in the town centre would attract shoppers, adding: “Free parking is a failed policy.”