Northern Ireland transport minister Danny Kennedy has said shoppers will get free on-street parking in Belfast, Lisburn and Newry in the run-up to Christmas.

Up until Christmas Eve shoppers will be able to park for free all day Saturday and from 4.30pm Monday to Friday in selected areas of Belfast city centre, Newry and Lisburn.

Kennedy said the measures were designed to help retailers during the Christmas period. “We wanted to give a boost to hard-pressed traders, not only all over Northern Ireland, but in this case Belfast, Lisburn and Newry,” he said. “It is not a panacea for all their ills, but it is an attempt to give recognition to the conditions that exist in this economically challenging period.”

The news follows the minister’s decision earlier this year to not proceed with a rollout of on-street parking charges to 30 towns and cities across Northern Ireland.

“This is an early Christmas present for Belfast, Newry and Lisburn,” said Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts.