FREE evening parking will aim to boost trade for pubs and restaurants in Southend’s town centre.

Deputy leader, Ron Woodley, is hoping that the new scheme will bridge the gap between afternoon and early evening trade, helping Southend’s economy recover from Covid-19.

The plans, which are set to risk £115,000 of the council’s normal parking income, will see motorists able to buy one hour of parking and get a second free in all off-street car parks, along with enforcement times reduced so that there are no charges in the car parks after 4pm.

Mr Woodley further explained that the council hopes discounted parking will boost the early afternoon trade in the town centre, specifically for the restaurants and pubs which will be able to re-open from July 4.

“It is there to help bridge that afternoon shopping to the early evening type trade, such as the restaurant businesses,” he continued.

“By giving that extra free hour, visitors will have more time to consider going out for a meal.”

A further £96,000 will also be spent on continuing contracts for a team of five additional parking enforcement officers over six months who are expected to be “self-funding” through the income generated by fines that are handed out.

Mr Ron Woodley, who oversees transport in Southend, said the extra officers will not be there to make residents pay for the millions of pounds lost in parking revenue during the height of the lockdown.

He said: “These five officers were already there before the pandemic, we are just extending their contracts for another six months.

“We have had them in place since sometime around January.

“People should only be looking to park safely anyway. You only get a fine if you don’t park safely.”

The plan will be discussed by council bosses at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon before going to the Place Scrutiny Committee next week.

Councillors will be asked to vote on three options, the first is to do nothing, the second to have the buy one hour get a second hour free discount, and the third which will be to buy two hours parking get a third free.