MOTORISTS will not have to pay council car parking charges until the autumn, it has been announced today.

On-street parking charges as well as those at council car parks and the country parks were originally suspended at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in March.

Wirral's cabinet had announced a plan to reintroduce charges from Monday, August 3 but during a meeting of the Environment Committee on Thursday, the decision was scrapped.

Announcing the extension of free parking until the autumn, Wirral's Labour Group leader and cabinet member for finance and resources, Cllr Janette Williamson said the aim is to help boost local businesses.

Cllr Williamson said: "As the borough moves to the next phase of tackling the coronavirus pandemic more businesses have been re-opening.

"But I know many of them are still struggling.

"Wirral Council has been one of the leading authorities in helping local businesses and traders during the pandemic and I am determined to continue that good work.

"By extending the suspension of car parking charges we can help encourage more people who may be wary of public transport at this time to visit their local shops and support them, and by doing so support local workers.

"And by allowing the continuation of free parking at our country parks I hope people will use this to help keep healthy and take regular exercise while also maintaining social distancing."

The cost of suspending parking charges is estimated to be in the region of £30,000 to £50,000 per month and was not part of the budget for 2020-2021, as set last year.

Some additional funding for tackling the impacts of the pandemic and the lockdown, including help for businesses has been provided by the Government, although none of that funding is able to be used to replace income lost from suspending parking charges.

Cllr Williamson added: "The Government has already made some extra funds available which have supported Wirral's response to the pandemic and, along with other local authorities, we await news of further funding and flexibilities to deal with the current budget situation.

"As a council we are still committed to our long-term environmental strategy around encouraging and facilitating active travel and a reduction in the use of cars going forward and that will inform any future decisions but no one could have foreseen the events which have caused such massive disruption not just in this country but across the world.

"Whilst our aspiration was to encourage residents to use public transport more, it is clear that many do not feel comfortable doing so and as such are still choosing to use their cars.

"The impact of the coronavirus and the lockdown has meant we have had to take steps we could not have predicted.

"Now our focus must remain on keeping residents safe and helping our businesses get back on their feet."

A review of car parking charges is proposed for the first meeting of the cross party Policy and Resources Committee in October.

A council spokesperson said: "A wholesale review of parking charges across the Borough has been requested and a report will also be available for the Committee to consider."

The decision to re-introduce parking charges was ‘called in’ for further scrutiny by Councillor Jenny Johnson and the Conservative Group, following concerns that charges could be the final nail in the coffin for a still-struggling high street.

Councillor Johnson said: “I would like to thank those traders and shop keepers who have contacted me since this decision was first published.

"It's clear that parking charges are a drag on our local economic recovery. 

"The Cabinet’s decision to halt their decision will be a relief to many of our small businesses."

Any reintroduction of parking charges will now be considered by the Council’s new, all-party Policy & Resources Committee that is being introduced from September 2020.

Councillor Tom Anderson, Chair of the environment committee, said: "Thanks to the actions of councillor Johnson and her colleagues, Wirral's economy will be given a bit more breathing space after tonight. 

"There are jobs, apprenticeships and, of course, future Business Rates, that are depending on a recovery."