FREE weekend parking in Bolton’s main multi-storey car parks has seen the number of users almost double.

Now the council has pledged to continue the scheme until May next year.

Bolton Council spends hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to fund the scheme, which applies to the Octagon, Deane Road and Topp Way NCP car parks.

Newly released figures show the number of vehicles parking during the free times — including weekends, Bank Holidays and after 3pm during the Christmas and New Year period — was 164,000 last year. This compared to 86,000 drivers using the three NCP car parks in the previous 12 months.

The extension of the scheme will again see the barriers lifted at the car parks after 3pm in the run up to Christmas.

Refunding NCP for the free parking costs the council £280,000 a year — but leader Cllr Cliff Morris said it was good value for money as a way of bringing more people into the town centre, particularly around Christmas.

He said: “The figures are really good evidence of the fact that we have got an increase in volume of people coming into the town centre.

“We sit down with the key retailers on a regular basis, and they have got a chance to influence decisions we take, as part of the partnership approach we have with them.

“It’s a key part of our strategy for the town centre, and the commitment to retain it includes the Christmas period which is part of our ongoing support for businesses in the town centre.

“It is also an important part of our marketing of Bolton — particularly for events like the Food and Drink Festival.”

Manager of Crompton Place shopping centre Malcolm Angus said their businesses had reaped the benefits of free parking in the town.

He added: “As a main shopping centre in the heart of the town centre, we fully back Bolton Council’s plans to extend their free parking initiative.

“Anything which strives to encourage more people to come and shop in the town receives our support whole heartedly.

“It is important we work together with key stakeholders such as Bolton Council to continue our efforts to make Bolton a first class shopping destination which is easy and convenient for people to visit.”

A spokesman for Market Place said: “The extension to free car parking really reflects the council’s vision to continually attract more and more people to Bolton and we wholeheartedly welcome anything that brings more shoppers to the town.

“We have bolstered their campaign with our own 90-minute free parking in our 480 capacity multi-storey car park which has proven hugely successful with both visitors and retailers alike, increasing footfall and sales in our 41 stores.”