Blackpool’s beleaguered town centre businesses are hoping that the free car parking offer will kick in this week to restore their pre-Christmas trade.
Shops and other businesses have complained that they have been hit hard by the series of road work as around the resort which they say have put people off coming to shop at the most crucial time of year.
The work is part of a major project to improve the town centre – including a new conference centre, IMAX cinema and extensions to the shopping centre and tramway – but Blackpool Council chiefs have come under fire for the timing of closures on Talbot Road and Dickson Road.
In response, the council and Blackpool BID (business improvement district) joined forces to offer free car parking at Central car park and £1 at certain others to try to help.
At the weekend there were reports of more people in town and car parks full with most retailers welcoming the move.
However, there are mixed views among traders on whether the move has been good for business.
Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “We are delighted to see that the car parks are being well used and are filling up each day.
“The offer announced by Blackpool Council and the Town Centre BID is attracting people into the town centre to do their shopping. We are trying to support both businesses and shoppers where we can throughout the festive period.”
Christmas shopper Debbie Nicholson, of Marton, said: “I only went into town today because of the free parking at Central car park.
“It is great idea, the town centre where I was shopping was quite busy.
“Parking is expensive but for my family it is cheaper than going on a bus, so the cheap and free parking should definitely encourage more people to do their Christmas shopping in Blackpool.”
Vishal Moudgil, owner of the Bang clothing store which has been in Adelaide Street West for 18 years, said he welcomed the parking offer.
He said: “We have had a couple of busy weekends thanks to Strictly and a dance festival being in town, but this weekend was quieter despite the free parking.
“I think that was because it was just local shoppers without the extra visitors, also the weather was bad.
“The work has to be done, we need to evolve as a town but it has hit trade. I am pleased the council has brought in the parking offer but I think they could do more to attract people into town with events of Christmas markets like Manchester.”
But Faheem Umerji from I Candi, which sells handbags, shoes and gifts in Bank Hey Street, said he was not sure all the people using the car parks in the week were shoppers.
He said: “I don’t think it has made much difference yet. The car parks may be full but I don’t see many more shoppers coming in.”
Blessing Dewhirst, who opened her Miss B Fashion clothing store in Topping Street six months ago, said business had been decimated by the roadworks and the parking was not helping.
She said: “I was hoping for a good Christmas to pay my rent and maybe make a small profit on top but I can’t see that happening.
“I had just started to build the business and get return customers but after the roadworks started they stopped coming.
“I saw one in Cleveleys the other day and she said it was easier to shop there than it was to get into Blackpool now. The car park offer is not working. The car park behind here is full but not with shoppers. I think it is workers taking advantage of £1 a day parking.”
Miroslaw Golab, from the NT Wholesale shop in Bank Hey Street, said he was pleased with the free parking. He said: ”We got a letter from the council telling us about it.
“I think it is a good idea but if people have to travel for an hour to get there I am not sure it will help.”
Paul Mann,, from the new Blackpool Exotics pet store on Church Street, said: “Most of my customers come by bus so I am not sure if it will help me. Customers have told me it takes half an hour to do a journey that should take 10 minutes. Most of the others round here have said they are struggling so I hope it helps between now and Christmas.”
John Newton, at Blackpool Mobile and Hire in Dickson Road, said the timing of the roadworks was ‘disgusting’. He added: “It is all well and good having free parking, but its finding a way to get there that’s the problem. It is total confusion.” Warwick Tunnicliffe, from Warwicks Amusements, welcomed the parking offer, adding: “It is good to see, a good idea and I hope that they do it again in the future at Christmas.”