Royal Borough's free festive parking offer receives backlash

The council’s free car parking offer over the Christmas period has been described as ‘underwhelming’ and ‘a smack in the face’ by angry residents.

The Royal Borough announced last week that free parking would be offered in both Maidenhead and Windsor town centre car parks from 3pm on Wednesdays leading up to Christmas – December 9, 16 and 23.

Windsor will also offer free parking on three Sundays ahead of the festive season – December 6, 13 and 20, with Maidenhead already free on this day. River Street in Windsor is excluded.

The council traditionally offers free parking on Saturdays ahead of the Christmas period, with other towns including Marlow and Wokingham advertising this again.

Cllr David Cannon, the council’s lead member for parking, told a cabinet meeting last week that the move would ‘bring some Christmas cheer’ and help boost trade for struggling businesses.

He also claimed that Wednesdays and Sundays were ‘quiet days’ in the borough, as opposed to Saturdays – which he said is already busy with shoppers.

“These being quiet days, we hope to drive footfall and shoppers to support businesses. That should be good news,” Cllr Cannon said at the meeting on November 26.

The move was also praised by council leader Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) who described it as ‘welcome news’ in what will ‘undoubtedly be a difficult time’ for firms.

But following the meeting, the offer has sparked anger and concern.

Cllr Geoff Hill (TBF, Oldfield) said he thinks the council should open the towns up, saying money gained on more parking revenue would be outweighed by businesses collapsing and being unable to pay business rates.

“What the borough needs to do is open up, say there is free parking on Saturdays and Sundays to encourage people into the town centre,” he said.

“Offer as much free parking as we possibly can. Give [people] free parking, they will use the town.

“For me it is a catastrophic mistake by the administration, they need to be far more generous.”

Advertiser readers have also reacted angrily to the news on social media, with Helen Gent saying on Facebook the move was a ‘slap in the face’ for residents, while Peter Turner called it ‘underwhelming generosity’.

Amy White, store manager at health food shop Grape Tree, in the Nicholsons Centre, said: “Normally they do the whole weekend. I would have appreciated a whole day [of free parking].”

She added that her store is trying to compete with Grape Tree shops in nearby Reading and High Wycombe.

Over in Windsor, a petition was started by residents to persuade the council to offer free parking over the Christmas retail period in order to ‘boost Windsor footfall’, which received more than 1,600 signatures.

A council spokesman said: “Feedback from our Town Centre Managers showed that, although not yet back to pre Covid levels, weekends are already busy. And now that the national lockdown has ended it’s likely that the number of visitors and shoppers to our town centres will continue to increase.

“This raised concerns that any move to make parking free on Saturdays could see unsafe numbers of people shopping at the same time, leading to breaches of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Therefore it was felt that the offer to increase free parking should concentrate on days and times where the number of visitors could safely be increased, thereby helping our high streets to recover in a COVID safe way.”

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