The free parking day in Portadown on the Saturday before Christmas appears to have been a success, with calls to make it a more regular occurrence.
All pay car park charges were waived, and there have been reports of car parks filled almost to capacity.
A survey carried out by Craigavon Borough Council with shoppers on the day has yet to be analysed, but a spokesperson said feedback so far has been “very positive”.
She said, “The car parks were full to capacity and the town was very busy.”
The council has to reimburse the Department of Regional Development (DRD) for its lost revenue on the ‘free’ Saturday, estimated to be £2,400 for Portadown and Lurgan.
Adrian Farrell, chairman of Portadown Chamber of Commerce, said he had taken a walk around the town car parks and they were “very healthily filled”.
He added, “I would like to see more initiatives like this from the council and the DRD. Even on Monday, someone was asking me if the car parks were free again.”
Chairperson of the council’s development committee Cllr Carla Lockhart said first soundings from a number of traders suggested that the initiative was a success and “something that can be built upon in the days ahead”.
She added, “We have always championed a closer working relationship with DRD with regards to off street parking charges as we believe they are a deterrent for people coming into the town centres. The committee will analyse its success, look at the cost, liaise with Road Service and certainly I personally would not be closed to making it a more regular feature.”
Meanwhile, there have been mixed reports from shop owners on trade. Mr Farrell, manager of the Meadows Shopping Centre, said Saturday and Monday had been very strong trading days and the entire Christmas period “reasonably good”.
Benetton, who held their sale before Christmas for the first time ever, said trading had been “fantastic”. A spokesperson said, “We started the sale on Monday, opening at 9am, and we were constant all day until we closed.”
Robert Davidson, of Davidson’s clothing shop in Bridge Street, said that while they had quite a good run-up to Christmas, footfall in the town was down and the sale had failed to bring out the crowds.
He said, “I know we are not the only traders who have found this. Maybe people did their spending before Christmas and are trying to stretch the money out until pay day. The parking and the redcoats are a big problem for us and any free parking would help.”