A FREE parking initiative in Monmouthshire';s three towns has helped to boost trade during the festive season, say traders.

The County Council waived its car parking charges in its paid-for car parks in Chepstow, Abergavenny and Monmouth for the last three Saturday’s for the fourth consecutive year. The initiative, which ran for the first time in 2010, was hailed a success by traders despite costing the council £17,000 in lost income.

A Monmouthshire council spokesman confirmed that all its 1,981 parking spaces in its 16 paid-for car parks were full on all three days.

Katie Thelwell, of Deacon’s Florists, Bank Street, welcomed the council’s decision to offer free parking at Castle Dell, Drill Hall, Nelson Street and Welsh Street in Chepstow which has 494 parking spaces.

She said: “It has helped to boost trade. The town has been heaving and you could not get a parking space.”

“We are always busy but this has helped bring people that would not necessarily come into town to do some impulse shopping.”

“I hope it returns next year but it would be lovely if it was free every Saturday,” she added.

Valerie Morgan, of Serendipity, on St Mary' s Street said footfall doubled in the town and the streets were crowded.

She said: "It was really packed and difficult to find a parking space. Footfall definitely doubled- if not trebled compared to a normal Saturday."

Matt Taylor, of Chepstow Bookshop said it gives shoppers another reason to come to Chepstow and is uplifting for the town.

However, Ian Meyrick, landlord of the Coach and Horses public house, Welsh Street, said trade has been good but cannot say if it is because of the initiative.

He said: “It is a positive move by the council, but I am not able to recognise that we have had any increase because of it. I have heard that people were taking advantage of the free parking and catching the train into Chepstow."

Louisa Burton, of Country Clutter, St Mary’s Street, said: “It has been fantastic and the free parking has made a difference.”

However Mrs Burton said the general feeling from customers and traders is disappointment that it isn’t continuing into this Saturday.

Carol Mutlow, of Hannah’s Music, Moor Street, said she did not notice much difference in trade and called for Friday’s to be included if it returns next year.

Cllr Phil Hobson, Monmouthshire County Council’s cabinet member for Community Development, said the car parks were full and towns busy.”

He said: “It costs the council around £17,000 in lost revenue each year but our towns benefit enormously from increased custom in shops and restaurants.”

“We want our towns to be vibrant and successful and initiatives like this help to benefit our traders and Christmas shoppers.”

“Even though parking won’t be free this Saturday I would urge people to come and do their shopping in our wonderful towns,” he added.