The debate over the continuation of free parking in the town centre is set to come to a head today after Labour called the motion in to be discussed again.

The scheme, which was brought in at the start of the pandemic to help the struggling high street, offered two-hours of free parking in on-street bays and multi-storeys in the town centre.

It also included free weekend and bank holiday parking at NCP multi-story car parks, including the Octagon.

This scheme came to an end last week, on July 19, after being extended from its original planned end date in November last year in order to continue supporting businesses blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns this brought.

The decision is being brought before the Place Scrutiny Committee at a meeting at 6pm tonight.

A council report detailing the reasons why this scheme was being scrapped said: “Bolton Council has provided free parking in the town centre for nearly 10 years and shown significant commitment to supporting town centre reopening following the pandemic.

“However, the £1m budget available for this activity is now almost gone and a large proportion of the funding has been spent on the free car parking initiative. This is limiting other opportunities to encourage the public back to the town centres and support local businesses.

“The impact of the pandemic continues to be felt by all sectors and is likely to remain for a number of months.

“Increasing pressures on council budgets means that the continuation of the additional two hours free parking is not sustainable as there is no other budget available to cover the costs.”

Deputy leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Martyn Cox, added after the scrapping was announced: “This council always backs local businesses and these parking offers have played a key role in bringing more people into the town centre.

“While this offer is coming to an end, we have a number of initiatives in place as we work to create a vibrant town centre and help the economic recovery.”

The Bolton Labour group, headed by Cllr Nick Peel, is calling the decision in to be discussed again by the council tonight, in order to keep the scheme.

He said: “The problem is with this report is that there is absolutely no comment on the impact on town centre businesses. We’ve called it in because the argument for having free town centre parking at the weekends is as strong now, if not more so, that it’s ever been as we recover from the pandemic.

“Ending the free parking can only have a negative impact, and no argument has been presented that shows otherwise.

“The free parking was brought in in the first place in 2012 to help struggling businesses, way before the pandemic. No information was given in the report about the consequences and we don’t feel that’s a very good way doing things ­— without first knowing the full facts.

“All this will do is keep people away from the town centre, and to places like the Trafford Centre, when our businesses need it the most coming out of Covid.It’s very short sighted.”

, and hopefully others will agree at this meeting so it can be brought before the full council.”