Back after a two-week break, and it was good to see our car parking story making the Echo's front page this morning.
I've been working on a package of proposals for several months now that will assist town shops in what is a difficult time for retailers not just locally, but nationally too (with the rise of internet shopping, for example).
Through our town centre partnership, local shop owners have been telling us that they believe more should be done to allow shoppers to browse in town beyond one or two hours.
To this end, at November's Cabinet, I'll be proposing that the third hour in Darlington's Council car parks becomes free - so you'll pay 80p for one hour, and £1.60 for 2 to 3 hours. That will make it considerably cheaper to park in Darlington than Middlesbrough for example, where 3 hours parking costs a princely £3.
Looking ahead, we're also bringing in "paying by text." It sounds complicated, but in reality is quite straightforward;
(1) should they wish to use the service, a car park user registers their name, mobile phone number, car registration and credit card details with the Council.
(2) when in a council car park, they purchase a number of hours car parking by text via their mobile phone.
(3) when their time is about to expire, a text is sent to their phone warning them. Should they choose, they can extend their stay by purchasing extra units of time, again via their phone.
Of course this system won't be for everyone, so the pay and display element will remain for those who want to continue to use the existing payment method.
The Council will also require that when new multi-storey car parks are built on its land (for example at the new Commercial Street development) then pay-on-exit systems are installed.
Finally, in the run-up to Christmas, short-stay car parking will be free every Thursday from 3.30pm, and on Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Parking will remain free on Sundays (to take the Middlesbrough example again, there is a charge for parking on Sundays).
All-in-all, it's the most comprehensive package of measures we've proposed since we refurbished all the tatty, crime-ridden car parks we inherited from the Tories in the early 1990's. I believe it will give a real shot in the arm to local businesses at a key trading time.