A farmer has offered £25,000 to pay for Christmas parking in Preston in a bid to get shoppers flocking back.
Andy Bradshaw has said he is willing to put up his own cash to subsidise the city council’s car parks, which make up nearly half all the parking spaces in the city centre, during the crucial festive trading period.
He said he would then allow the Town Hall to keep the cash if the experiment fails to attract extra shoppers.
Today, council leader Peter Rankin has confirmed he will meet with the farmer to discuss his proposal.
The 52-year-old, of Cottam, said: “I am a born and bred Prestonian and proud to be one but when I go into the city centre I see empty shops and no-one in them and parking is a big part of that.
“If we want people to take Preston’s city centre seriously again, we need to knock parking on the head.
“You only have to look at the Trafford Centre or even the Deepdale Shopping Park and see they are packed with people because they know they can park for free and not have to be looking at their watch all the time because they are worried when their parking ticket is running out.
“It is a challenge to the council, to the traders, to the people of Preston and everyone connected with the city to make it work – no-one has anything to lose and everything to gain.”
He is proposing the council making its car parks, at the bus station, market hall and on Hill Street, free between the end of this month and the start of January, covering the crucial Christmas trading period.
Mr Bradshaw approached the city’s Business Improvement District (BID), which had criticised the council’s decision to hire a consultant to draw up a new strategy on car parking, to make the offer and then came to the Evening Post to get in touch with Town Hall bosses.
It is understood the council will meet with the farmer in the coming days although they are also thinking about obligations to get people using public transport into the city centre.
Council leader Peter Rankin said: “We are happy to meet with anyone who wants to invest in Preston, our door is always open.
“We are happy to discuss the proposal with Mr Bradshaw.”
On Saturday, Lancashire County Council opened 136 spaces at its car park on Arthur Street, off Pitt Street, up free to shoppers and said this would continue throughout the Christmas period and possibly beyond.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce which runs the BID, said she hoped the offer would make the council “wake up” to shoppers’ disquiet about parking charges.
She said: “I hope the council does not even consider taking this money but instead realises that Prestonians like Mr Bradshaw are being put off coming to shop in the city by high parking charges.
“With so many neighbouring towns offering car parking incentives we need to ensure that Preston offers retailers the chance to play on the same level playing field.
“The county council has led the way by making its car park on Arthur Street free from last weekend but that ambition has to be matched by the city council.”
Coun Robert Boswell, the city council’s executive member for environment, will decide whether the authority makes any of its car parks free over Christmas at a meeting on November 21.