FREE parking is being offered on Saturdays in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to boost business on the High Street.

Dorset Council has announced that all of its car parks will be free to park in on December 5, 12 and 19. The moves are part of efforts to boost spending in towns and try to compensate shops in some way for the devastating impact the pandemic has had on trade.

The offer only applies to council-owned car parks, and not on-street parking,

Councillor Molly Rennie, representing Dorchester East, said: "This is a very nice gesture, especially as lockdown is lifting. It is a gift to traders and to shoppers from Dorset Council in the run-up to Christmas.

"We need to do all we can to try and encourage people to come into our towns spend some money. I hope that this will give people an incentive to come and park in the towns and go to our shops.

"Even if people using the free car parks are only saving 60p then they are still 60p better off and, especially during this uncertain time, keeping hold of your pennies matters, so I am pleased the council is offering this."

The announcement that the council is offering free parking on selected days in December comes a day after it was revealed that controversial increases and extensions to parking charges across the county could bring in an extra £800,000 a year for Dorset Council.

The authority estimates it has lost around £2m in parking charges due to the pandemic.

A report to councillors says that extending the hours of charging from 6pm to 8pm will bring in a maximum of £330,200 after costs; that charging for Sunday parking will add another £96,000 and doubling the all day fee at Lyme Regis and West Bay from £2 to £4 will bring in an extra £362,600.

There have been complaints about the lack of consultation over the issue and claims that new evening and Sunday charges could hit the area’s already struggling economy.

Cllr Rennie said: "I do think that offering free parking on the three Saturdays before Christmas is a kind offer, however, I think the council will have to go a long way to appease shopkeepers who are unhappy about the changes to parking rules and the increase in parking costs."