THOUSANDS of free town centre parking spaces will be available every day from next week in the run-up to Christmas.

From October 28 until January 10, parking at three multi-storey car parks — Deane Road, the Octagon and Topp Way — will be free after 3pm. Those car parks will also be free on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

The move follows the announcement that businesses will be offered a £20,000 incentive to set up shop in Bolton, as part of a £1.5 million council investment.

Council leader, Cllr Cliff Morris, said the latest move will support the “bumper festive package” on offer in the town centre.

Shop owners also said that declining footfall figures have made paying for expensive town centre facilities increasingly difficult.

For the last five months, parking at these three car parks has been free all day on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Cllr Morris said: “We want to do everything we can to encourage more people into town and to support our town centre businesses, particularly in the run-up to Christmas and New Year.

“The feedback we’ve had from retailers is that the free parking scheme has had a positive impact on their sales.

“We’ve taken the views of our key retailers on board and timed the free after 3pm extension to include the half term holidays.

“We’ve got a bumper festive package this year and the free parking extension helps support this.”

Local businesses have welcomed the plan, saying that difficulty in parking in the town centre is one of the most common complaints they get from shoppers.

Jackie Muller, owner of Cappucino’s cafe in the Marketplace Shopping Centre, said: “We always welcome any help in boosting footfall in the town centre.

“We’re competing with retail parks, who offer free parking and need every bit of help we can.”

Andy Cottrell, manager of Rhode Island coffee shop in Knowsley Street, added: “It’s welcome news, anything that brings customers in over the Christmas period is great.

“Parking is always a huge issue for people, particularly when you hear of people getting fined for dropping elderly passengers off and stopping for a few seconds.

“I think this is a good idea, as it will coincide with the kids finishing school before we shut.”

Rod Neasham, Market Place Shopping Centre manager, said: “The extension of the free parking offer from the council is to be welcomed and I hope shoppers take advantage and that it encourages them to shop in Bolton town centre.”

But Chris Grundy, manager of his family’s fruit and veg stall in Bolton Market said: “We might get a knock-on from the Octagon going free but people buying fruit and veg tend not to park too far away.

“It would have been nice if there could be some offers at the market’s car park, which gets very busy at our peak times.”

The programme of Christmas events in the town centre includes a special lights switch-on party, which will be attended by BBC 1’s The One Show on Monday, November 11.

From November 30, a 200-square-metre ice rink will return, plus real reindeer and a free Santa’s grotto.

A giant Ferris wheel will be in Victoria Square from December 12, while a speciality market in Newport Street from December 12 to 15 and street entertainment have also been planned to help attract shoppers.

Under plans to attract businesses back into the town centre, traders will be able to apply for two levels of grant — the first level, which will be fast-tracked to get the scheme moving, would offer grants of up to £20,000.

Grants of more than £20,000 will be offered for businesses which require more funding in the town centre.

The scheme is specifically targeted at certain types of businesses, including greengrocers, restaurants and music shops — while other stores, including takeaways, pound shops and bookmakers will not be offered the cash.