FREE two-hour weekday parking in Bolton town centre is set to end next month as the council can no longer afford the loss of income.

But opposition councillors are set to challenge the move by the Tory-controlled borough council.

The free parking scheme was introduced in 2012 to encourage people into the town centre and support local businesses.

It was extended as a response to the pandemic after £1m was found to support the town centre.

The free two-hour offer applied to the Octagon, Topp Way, and Deane Road NCP multi-storeys along with 356 town centre pay and display bays and Bolton Market’s car park.

Motorists still needed to get a ticket for their parking even though they did not need to pay for the first two hours.

Failure to display a ticket could result in a parking fine.

The offer was initially set to end in mid-November, 2020 but it was then agreed to extend the scheme until June 20 in line with stage four of the Covid roadmap being introduced.

Earlier this week, Bolton Council’s deputy leader Martyn Cox extended the free parking by four weeks meaning charges will be re-introduced on Monday, July 19.

Fears have been expressed on what the impact will be on the numbers of shoppers travelling to the town centre, with Bolton’s opposition council leader saying the need for town centre retail help is ‘more relevant now than ever’.

A report on Cllr Cox’s decision has been published by Bolton Council.

It states: “At the beginning of the pandemic, the council allocated £1m for Covid recovery and response from the town centre strategy budget and £839,000 of this was allocated to free parking.

“This was based on 2019 car parking usage and used as a maximum benchmark for what might be needed to fund free parking.

“The continuation of the free parking initiative was not sustainable in the long term due to the amount of budget available.”

Labour opposition leader Cllr Nick Peel said his group had called in the decision in for further scrutiny by councillors and said the report the decision was based on lacked analysis of the impact on town centre retail.

He said: “Bolton Council have been offering free parking at multi-storey car parks since 2012.

“The Tories were ready to scrap this before the pandemic but Covid monies allowed them to extend it for 12 months.

“However the argument for the economic benefits of continuing this is even more relevant now than it was then.

“The council needs to do all it can to assist the struggling retail sector.

“We are also very unhappy that the report that went before Cllr Cox had no analysis on what this will do do town centre footfall so we will need to see that.”