AN ATTEMPT to secure more free parking in Cheshire East towns by the Conservative group has been rebuked by the ruling Labour-Independent coalition, after figures show footfall in Knutsford and Wilmslow has taken a nose-dive in the pandemic.

At yesterday's CEC cabinet meeting, December 1, Conservative group leader Cllr Janet Clowes called on borough chiefs to relax some charges in council car parks in key market towns from December 3 until January 2021.

However, her plan was rejected by cabinet members, with Cllr Laura Crane questioning the public health implications of it, and Cllr Amanda Stott seeking clarity over the financial impact on the council.

Cllr Craig Browne added: “We have to listen to our business community. We have had some information on footfall in principal towns.

“There is a 35 per cent reduction in footfall nationally but all of our towns are doing better than that, and three have increased.”

The deputy leader claimed that Middlewich saw a 17 per cent increase in footfall in September 2020 compared to 12 months earlier — the biggest rise of any CEC town.

However, Wilmslow saw a major fall of 23 per cent, with Knutsford also seeing an 18 per cent shrinkage.

The Independent group leader also pointed out that Sandbach saw a 14 per cent drop, despite the fact it has free parking already — arguing ‘it does seem from this [data] that parking charges are not the principal determinant to our town centres’’ recovery.

Conservative Cllr Stewart Gardiner said the move was more about a ‘projection’ that the council was encouraging residents to shop locally.

CEC allows town and parish councils to allocate four days a year for their car parks to be free, which are usually near Christmas.