FREE parking for key workers at council-run car parks stops today.

Near the start of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Dorset Council suspended parking charges in its car parks across the county.

These charges were reinstated for most people from June 15, when shops on high streets and town centres opened their doors to the public again.

Key workers were allowed to carry on parking for free but, as of today, will have to pay again.

The council says the changing definition of what a key worker is has left the scheme difficult to enforce, and the re-opening of shops, increased capacity for shopping deliveries and fewer people shielding at home means there is less demand for free parking for those who were part of community response initiatives.

It says the scheme was always intended to run until the end of June so, with the further relaxing of travel restrictions and the imminent re-opening of restaurants and cafes, 'the time is right' to return to normal charging practices.

It hopes charges will allow for a consistent turn-around of vehicles, meaning visitors don’t stay any longer than they need to and frees up spaces for other vehicles that arrive throughout the day.

It says civil enforcement officers will use their discretion when dealing with key worker vehicles that may attempt to continue parking for free over the coming days, preferring for warnings and guidance to be issued while word gets around that the scheme has ended.

While ticket machines will accept cash, contactless payment methods via the Just Park service are being encouraged. Those with mobile phones can phone, text or use the smartphone app to pay for parking without touching the ticket machine.

Cllr Ray Bryan, Dorset Council portfolio holder for highways, travel and environment, said: “I would like to say a huge 'thank you' to everyone who was able to take advantage of our free parking offer that we put in place more than three months ago.

"Dorset Council will always be grateful to those key workers who supported our communities during the worst of the Covid-19 lockdown period. But with the gradual relaxation of travel restrictions, changed public health guidance and the re-opening of shops, it is now the right time for us to get back to normal in how we charge for the use of our car parks.

"Enforcement officers will use their discretion and initially be lenient if any key workers appear to continue parking for free in the immediate future. But this won’t last long, so I recommend everyone re-acquaints themselves with our parking charges sooner rather than later.”