A DECISION to scrap carpark charges at council-run car parks in Birkenhead on Saturdays throughout January has been criticised as unfair by opponents.
The scheme aims to support the town as track renewal work takes place in the Liverpool 'loop'.
Cllr Stuart Whittingham, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, said the decision to scrap charges had been made in response to "specific concerns about the effect on Birkenhead traders caused by the temporary closure of the town centre railway station".
He also rejected claims that the council did not support the borough's other town centres.
But Wallasey Conservative councillor Lesley Rennie has described the charge-scrapping decision as 'unfair to traders and shoppers in the rest of the borough'.
Oxton Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Kelly called for the scheme to be extended to all Wirral shopping centres.
Network Rail is replacing the most challenging sections of concrete-based track in the Liverpool 'loop' – originally laid in the 1970s - and carrying out other work, including replacing conventional track under the riverbed.
The work started on Tuesday and will take place day and night until June 18.
For the first six weeks there are no trains between Wirral and Liverpool.
The free-parking initiative applies to authority-operated car parks in Birkenhead only; motorists will still have to pay for on-street parking.
Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Wirral's cabinet member for Highways and Infrastructure, said: "It's incorrect to say we don't support our other town centres; parking was free at all council-run car parks across Wirral after 3pm every day in December, and we also waived charges on boxing day and new year’s day throughout the borough.
"We will not be charging for car parking in Birkenhead on Saturdays in January to mitigate the fact that Conway Park railway station, the one that serves Birkenhead shopping centre, will be closed while work on the Merseyrail loop line takes place.
"As access by rail to other Wirral shopping centres is not affected by the work, this seems a perfectly reasonable response to specific concerns about the effect on Birkenhead traders caused by the temporary closure of the town centre railway station."
Conservative Cllr Lesley Rennie said: "This means that traders and shoppers in the rest of the Borough are being penalised in order to prop up the Council's failing regeneration of Birkenhead.
"Not only is it unfair to them, it also confirms what many people have long suspected; that the council's leadership is favouring the areas they represent while neglecting the rest of the borough.
"We know that car parking charges are a major reason why so many people are no longer visiting our local shopping centres.
"To make this decision a few days before Christmas, without any opportunity for scrutiny or questioning is a slap in the face to those traders in Wallasey and elsewhere who are struggling and who would also have benefited from this policy."
Cllr Whittingham responded: "Yet again the Tories show how out of touch they are.
"Rather than criticising Wirral Traders and shoppers they should join us in supporting them.
"With Conway Park station closed we are taking action to help business in our town centre.
"For Cllr Rennie to again try and make this an "us and them" situation shows how the Tories don't care about Wirral".
Oxton Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Kelly said: "This council’s left hand doesn't know what its right is up to.
"Last month the cabinet agreed to budget proposals for next April which would double car parking charges and introduce new ones at New Brighton and at Country Parks.
"If they want to promote Wirral's retail centres they should take these price hikes off the table now.
"With regard to free parking in January for Birkenhead why not extend this initiative to all of the retail centres including West Kirby, Heswall and Liscard."