By Daniel Hunter

Rochdale Council has been praised for its decision to introduce free car parking in the area in an attempt to boost business for local retailers.

The Greater Manchester authority will implement the scheme, which will see the first three hours free at all its car parks, from 1 May. The move has seen it scoop a 'Business Buddy Award' from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) — a scheme that recognises the efforts of individuals, groups or organisations for going above and beyond for the good of small businesses.

Rochdale Council’s decision to rescind car parking charges — which will cost the authority around £100,000 in lost revenue - is aimed at reviving town centres by making them more attractive for shoppers.

Simon Edmondson, the FSB's regional chairman in Manchester & North Cheshire, said: “We very much like the approach Rochdale Council has taken, and we urge other local authorities in the region to follow their lead.

“The FSB’s own Keep Trade Local campaign is very much about supporting retailers, and this is why we have presented our Business Buddy Award to Rochdale. As an authority they’ve taken a bold step at a time when finances are tight, but we believe they will reap the rewards of a rejuvenated and thriving town centre, which is ultimately in everyone’s best interest — and especially traders.

“The FSB believes there’s a clear and direct link between car parking charges, reduced town centre footfall, and vacant shops. Clearly Rochdale Council agrees. The facts of the matter are that car parking charges, however small, strangle town centres and put traders out of business.

“Sustainable, vibrant town centres, need a variety of shops, and therefore you need paying customers — and lots of them. Paying to park is a turn-off for many shoppers, especially if there’s perhaps parking ticket at the end for running over by just a few minutes. Add out of town shopping centres to the mix where parking is free, then there’s a big problem. Hats off to Rochdale for recognising this.”

Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, Richard Farnell, said: “I’m thrilled to get this award. As a council, we’re committed to supporting local businesses because a thriving economy benefits us all. High streets up and down the country have really struggled in recent years, and Rochdale is no exception. We hope that this free parking offer, which will be in place in just a few short weeks, will make a huge difference to them.”

Do you know someone or an organisation that deserves an FSB Business Buddy Award? To nominate email details to: robert.downes@fsb.org.uk or call 0791 762 8905.