A CALL has been issued to make parking in Wokingham borough-owned car parks free of charge in the run-up to Christmas.
Wokingham Town Conservative Councillor Phil Cunnington said that he intends to lobby Wokingham Borough Council to give parking concessions in the Christmas period.
The Conservative-run borough council usually announces free car parking in most of its car parks in late November or the first week of December, and covers the December weekends before Christmas.
But Cllr Cunnington wants the council to announce the news sooner.
“I want to support our brilliant local businesses and provide free parking in the town on the weekends leading up to Christmas,” he said.
“There have been concessions in previous years but there have been no announcements this year and as it’s the first year with Wokingham town centre fully open, I am really keen for the new businesses to see as much trade as possible.
“Also the existing businesses who have been so patient throughout the regeneration, I want them to see the benefit and reap the rewards for their patience and commitment to Wokingham.
He added: “There will be nothing finer than a bustling, vibrant town centre over the Christmas shopping period and I am sure that this initiative will help.
“I will be speaking to the Borough councillors regularly over the next few weeks to persuade them to deliver a Christmas bonus for Wokingham Town.”
But opposition councillors are baffled by the need for the campaign.
Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey, the Lib Dem spokesperson for Wokingham Town Centre regeneration, said: “This is certainly a very odd move from Phil Cunnington.
“Wokingham Borough Council have traditionally offered some form of free parking in its car parks in the run-up for Christmas, I see no reason why this year would be different.
“Is Phil Cunnington suggesting that our Conservative-led Wokingham Borough Council may not continue to support free parking this year? If this tradition has changed, I would certainly like to know why.”
She added: “Very clearly, we want to see Wokingham’s shops and businesses supported after the amount of disruption they have endured over the last few years. Free parking is a welcome and generous gesture that WBC can give us all and will help our town continue to thrive during the winter season.
“This year, there have been pluses and minuses. The closure of Denmark Street Car Park has caused significant problems to some of our town users, but, the opening of the new playground at Elms Field and our new shops have bought more people into the town and I can see that our Market is thriving again.
“Wokingham Town Council will be putting up its Christmas tree, as usual, and providing free events with its living advent calendar in the run-up to Christmas.”
And Labour councillor Andy Croy was also dubious.
“It’s important to support all our town centres but in the past, Wokingham traders have told me they prefer free parking after Christmas, as this is when trade is really low,” he said. “Traders have told me the problem with free all-day parking in the run-up to Christmas is that it primarily benefits people who work in town on Saturdays – they turn up early for work and park all day for free – rather than shoppers.
“But this isn’t a serious campaign. It’s just the latest example of Wokingham’s Tories virtue signalling each other.
“Phil launched his campaign with a ‘selfie-video’ on social media. The day before, he was in social media training course with other Tory councillors. Presumably, ‘selfie-videos’ were on the syllabus.
“He was sitting in the same room as the Executive member for Highways, Pauline Jorgensen, and other members of the executive. He could simply have leant across the table and asked Pauline. Or he could have called her.
“Which is what I have done. But no, we have a ‘campaign’ instead of practical action.
“Ideally, of course, we would support our town centre without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This would involve shuttle buses from our residential centres to Wokingham town.
“Regrettably, the funding for such a service is not available.”
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, executive member for highways and transport at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “We are aware of town councillor Phil Cunnington’s campaign and support the aim of boosting businesses across the borough in the run up to Christmas.
“Therefore, we will be providing free parking in town and village centre car parks on Saturdays during December and details will be announced soon.”