A BUSINESS lobby group is urging local councils to “do their bit” for retailers by scrapping town centre parking charges in 2013.
The Forum of Private Business said local authorities should spare a thought for struggling shopkeepers when drawing up their budget plans for 2013-14 and make car parking free for shoppers.
But a spokesman for Kirklees Council said the cost of such a move to council revenue would be “significant” and put it under further pressure.
Revenue from pay-and-display parking in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Holmfirth brought in almost £4.5m to council coffers in 2011-12.
The Forum said scrapping parking charges would increase footfall in town centres, make them more attractive places for firms to do business and reduce the number of vacant commercial premises.
It described such a move as “one of the most business-friendly concessions” a council could make for small retailers in what is promising to be another challenging trading year for the sector.
Forum head of policy Alex Jackman, said: “There are so many good reasons why all councils should be considering something along these lines, but first and foremost would be to help retailers through another tough trading year.
“High streets across the country are under threat and have been for many years now from the likes of out-of-town shopping centres where parking is universally free. Then there’s the internet and the rise of e-tailers taking an increasingly bigger slice of a shrinking consumer pie.
“It doesn’t take a genius to work out that councils charging people ever more for the privilege of coming into their town centres to spend their hard-earned cash is not the best plan to grow footfall.
“Set it against a backdrop of spiralling motoring costs and it’s a recipe for disaster.”
The Kirklees spokeswoman said: “The cost and impact to the council of free parking in the town centres would be significant and add further pressure to an already difficult time in terms of austerity measures.”
She said pay-and-display parking income in 2011-12 totalled £616,179 in Dewsbury, £3.65m in Huddersfield and £215,672 in Holmfirth.
The Forum says national research shows an alarming number of shops closing down. Between 2000 and 2009 some 15,000 retailers rolled down the shutters in town centres.
A further 10,000 closed in 2010 and 2011 suggesting failure rates are rising.
Mr Jackman said: “If councils want to see fewer empty properties blighting their high streets, then axing car parking charges is something they must look at.
“It’s no longer acceptable to just offer free parking at Christmas to help traders during the festive period, a tactic in itself which shows councils do understand the link between free parking and increased trade.
“If councils want thriving town centres with improved occupancy levels then they need to take drastic action without delay.”