PARKING across Somerset West and Taunton Council’s car parks is set to remain free until August 30.

The matter was discussed at a full council meeting yesterday evening, as the councillors decided what actions would be best to help support the town centre.

The government ordered councils across the country to cease car park charges at the start of the lockdown, and local authorities are now deciding went to start charging again, with some bringing charges in again as early as May.

The elected members agreed to back the proposal from councillor Mike Rigby, while a spat broke out over car parking data.

The report stated that from April-June last year, income from the council-owned car parks was £1.1million, but for the same period this year, a mere £3,000 has been made.

Cllr Rigby said: “There isn’t reams of data because there isn’t any.

“There will be a cost to the council from doing this but we simply don’t know what it is because we don’t know how many people would be using the car parks.

“The early part of lockdown, the amount was very limited.

“I think the amount of money lost from suspending the charges, certainly at the beginning, was really quite low because there was very little use, but I can’t tell you what it is.”

Some councillors spoke out in favour of the cessation of the charges, stating reasons such as it enabled community volunteers to more easily carry out duties.

Cllr Ross Henley added: “This is good news for all around. It’s really important to support our small traders.

“Lots of district councils are already charging and have been for many weeks.

“We need to show support to our town centres.”

Residents were reminded that the free parking extends only to SWT owned sites, and not on-street parking, which is governed by Somerset County Council.

After questions from other members, Cllr Rigby said a one-hour free trial could potentially be in place when charges resume in September.

But one councillor took issue with the lack of data,

Cllr Roger Habgood said: “Of course there’s data, there’s year on year data.

“It’s false information. The data we have got could be estimated very easily.”

But Cllr Rigby responded, calling ‘nonsense’ to Cllr Habgood’s response.

“It’s complete nonsense,” he said.

“You can’t use data from the pre Covid-19 period to estimate how many people are using the car park, it bears absolutely no relevance to it whatsoever.”

Cllr Habgood abstained from voting on the motion, which was passed.