City leaders put the brakes on free Christmas parking

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A FREE parking scheme to help boost city centre trade in the run-up to Christmas has been ditched by council bosses.

&#149 The scheme was designed to encourage shoppers back in to the city centre over Christmas but has been deemed too expensive

Motorists had been offered the chance to park free of charge in certain city centre streets during the festive period in each of the last five years.

Council bosses have now scrapped the initiative, claiming there is not enough cash in the coffers to finance it.

Introduced in 2005, the scheme grew in size, costing around 70,000 in 2008.

It was scaled back in 2009, but now council chiefs have decided to drop it entirely.

&#149 Is the council right to ditch free city centre parking in the run-up to Christmas? Vote here

Drivers and small business enjoyed the scheme after putting up with tram diversions and the council was keen to encourage drivers back into the city before Christmas.

Michael Dixon, chairman of the Federation of Small Business, said: "We supported this scheme and it was something retailers were very keen on. This decision is disappointing as it helped businesses at a time when the tram construction was making difficulties for them.

"Businesses deserve better from the council. We need to do more to encourage people to use the leisure facilities and shops in the city centre."

Some opposition councillors said although they sympathised with traders struggling after the recent bad weather, the situation is different from previous years, when the scheme was run to encourage shoppers back into the city centre during breaks in tram works.

Conservative city centre councillor Joanna Mowat said: "Previously it has run when TIE took the tram works off for Christmas, to open it up and say 'bring your cars back into the city'. Obviously when Princes Street was closed there was a push towards getting trade back into the city.

"That isn't the situation this year. Whilst I'm sympathetic to the traders, I'm not sure, given budget pressures, it's justifiable."

The scheme, which applied in the evening and at weekends, was available across the city centre, as well as in the West End, Old Town, Tollcross and Grassmarket.

In previous years, the 70,000 in lost parking revenue was covered by the Open for Business campaign.

Last year, the group said it was focusing its budget on other initiatives, with the council unwilling to pick up the tab for the lost revenues itself.

A council spokesman said: "In the current economic climate it's not been possible for the council or partners to identify funding for this promotion.

"However, with a wide range of activities for all the family, excellent bus services and plenty of parking available, we believe Edinburgh city centre offers a great shopping experience over the festive season."