FREE parking in Bolton town centre will be extended as part of efforts to boost town centre trade.

Bolton Council has set aside £500,000 to help fund an expanded version of the free parking programme which was rolled out over the festive period.

From November 15 until January 27, parking charges were waived at Bow Street, Deane Road, Topp Way and the Octagon multi-storey car parks at weekends and after 3pm on weekdays.

Although the final figures of how many shoppers took advantage of the scheme have not yet been revealed, Town Hall chiefs said the initial feedback they received had been positive.

Now they hope to offer some form of free parking starting as soon as April.

Council chiefs said plans were still in the early stages. Details of which days and hours to be included in the scheme will be decided after consultation with town centre business leaders.

Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris said: “We’ve put some money to one side and we’re talking to town centre businesses.

“It’s £500,000 but it could be more or it could be less than that, the parking could be Saturdays or Sundays, or after 3pm, or Saturdays after noon. We don’t know yet and we’re still discussing it.”

It is hoped the free parking scheme, which is being paid for out of the council’s capital budget, will run all year.

Cllr Morris said: “We met with the town centre management committee and the feedback we’ve had is that they had a good Christmas.

“They said the free parking was good for the town centre but I think it was more than that, I think it was introducing things like the ice rink too.”

Keith Davies, Bolton Council’s Director of Development and Regeneration, added: “We can see there’s been some success with the free parking.

“We’re looking at doing something again and will be looking at all the options.”

And traders have welcomed the move.

Chris Webb, joint owner of photographic store Mathers of Lancashire in Market Street, said: “It would be absolutely amazing. That’s what this town needs.

“It would be a boost to the whole town centre and would get people coming here rather than going to the Trafford Centre.

“Bury used to have a free car parking scheme and it worked there. I think the free car parking over Christmas here did have an impact.”

Tony Frame, who has run the Salmon Kings stall at Bolton Market for the last 25 years, added: “I think the idea is brilliant.

“It’ll certainly help the town centre and, if it keeps people away from the out of town shopping centres, then it’s a good idea.”

Malcolm Angus, Crompton Place shopping centre manager, said: “I am pleased to hear the local authority is setting aside this substantial sum to look at some form of free parking scheme.

“It is a terrific way to encourage more people to the town which is vital for Bolton’s businesses and the people who live and work here.

“I will be very interested to learn of the finer details for the scheme and welcome this positive action by Bolton Council to support the town’s traders.”