RETAIL bosses have praised the council’s decision to offer free car parking at the weekends for further year in a bid to boost High Street sales.

Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris announced that cars parked in the Octagon, on Deane Road and Topp Way at weekends and bank holidays can stay all day, for free, for another year.

It comes as new figures shows that since free car parking was introduced in May, the number of vehicles using the multi-storey car parks has gone up by 92 per cent.

The scheme was due to end in three months — but will now be extended until May 2015.

Malcolm Angus, manager of Crompton Place shopping centre, said: “Any strategy to bring more customers and people in Bolton town centre is good news.

“Since the free parking started we’ve noticed people’s shopping patterns getting slightly longer — it’s a little bit more consistent between 2.30pm and 4.30pm, whereas previously it would nosedive around 3.30pm.

“It’s keeping people in the town centre for longer, to the benefit of retailers and Bolton as a whole.”

Tim Vaughan, chief executive of the Moorgarth Group, which owns Market Place, agreed that extension of free parking would mean more shoppers coming to Bolton.

He said: “It indicates the council’s determination to help regenerate Bolton.”

Sean Harriss, chief executive of Bolton Council, said it was the right move to extend the pilot scheme.

He added: “We’ve been very encouraged by the number of people taking up the free parking and the very positive feedback we’ve had from businesses. It seems a lot of people are using the car parks and it is helping to bring more people into Bolton.”

Speaking after the announcement Cllr Morris said the decision was taken after consultation with local businesses who said they noticed their footfall increasing as a result.

He added: “The results are encouraging and it’s getting people into the town centre, which is in competition with other, out-of-town businesses.

“It’s only right that we encourage people to come into Bolton.”