Free parking pilot aims to revive Paisley town centre
Free parking periods have been introduced in Paisley town centre in an effort to help local businesses.
Under a six-month pilot scheme, motorists will be able to use some car parks without being charged for the first three hours of their stay.
Backers of the Free for Three scheme hope it will boost town centre footfall and "entice people to stay local".
But Friends of the Earth Scotland said encouraging more car use was a step in the wrong direction.
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The Paisley pilot was brought forward by a working group, comprising councillors and officials from Renfrewshire Council, the business-led initiative Paisley First, as well as local public transport and private car parking operators.
Renfrewshire Council leader Iain Nicolson, who chairs the working group, said: "Paisley town centre has so much to offer and we want to make it as easy as possible for people to visit and spend their money locally.
"We've been working closely with local businesses and partners to identify how the council can best provide its support and they've identified that a period of three hours' parking could boost footfall in the town and increase trade within their businesses."
He added: "The pilot will be evaluated after six months and we'll assess the impact it has had and identify the next steps."
Paisley First chairwoman Colette Cardosi said: "Free for Three is a crucial campaign for the future of the business community we represent in Paisley town centre and those who visit or would like to visit the town on a more frequent basis.
"With visitor attractions such as Paisley Museum and Paisley Town Hall now closed for refurbishment, it is crucial that the impacts felt by local businesses as a result are mitigated against."
Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce also welcomed the initiative.
Chief executive Bob Grant said: "Parking is one of the key factors in helping visitors and driving footfall to Paisley Town Centre.
"Retail has evolved rapidly with the rise of online and new initiatives are important to test what works to remove barriers and repopulate our town centres."
The six car parks involved in the pilot are Orchard Street, Weighhouse Close, Hunter Street (upper and lower), Oakshaw and School Wynd. Together they offer a total of 186 spaces.
Every vehicle will still need to display a ticket, but free parking will be available for the first three hours after 10:00 on Mondays to Saturdays - after which charges will apply.
Charges are being reintroduced on a Saturday in all council-owned car parks, with the six pilot car parks having the first three hours free.
Parking will remain free all day on a Sunday in all council-owned spaces. There is no change to on-street parking charges, with evening and weekend parking remaining free.
Gavin Thomson, air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said scrapping town centre parking charges was a move in the wrong direction.
He said: "When we encourage more car use, we encourage more air pollution which causes premature deaths and a lot of health problems, and we encourage more greenhouse gas emissions from transport which causes climate change.
"We should be going in exactly the opposite direction."
He said if councils wanted to encourage shoppers back to town centres they should also be addressing the issue of free parking at out-of-town retail parks and "reinvesting that money in improving town centres and public transport links".
He added: "Initiatives like pedestrianisation and improving our town centres in big cities and in smaller towns have been effective in bringing people back to the high street."
At the beginning of last month, Glasgow City Council ended free Sunday parking.
The move was aimed in part at easing congestion but business leaders warned it might push shoppers from the city centre.