Local authorities have been urged to scrap car parking charges in town centres.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) called on local authorities to “spare a thought for struggling retailers and make car parking free for shoppers” when compiling their budget plans for 2013/2014, traditionally done in February.

FPB head of policy Alex Jackman said it made sense to scrap town centre parking charges. “There are so many good reasons why all councils should be considering something along these lines, but first and foremost would be to help retailers through another tough trading year,” he said. “High streets across the country are under threat and have been for many years now from the likes of out-of-town shopping centres where parking is universally free.”

Jackman added that free parking should not just be for the festive season. “If councils want to see fewer empty properties blighting their high streets, then axing car parking charges is something they must look at,” he said. “It’s no longer acceptable to just offer free parking at Christmas to help traders during the festive period, a tactic in itself which shows councils do understand the link between free parking and increased trade.”

Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Assembly froze car parking charges in city centres until 2015.

Transport minister Danny Kennedy said the freeze, which will last until March 2015, would “give a much-needed boost to our local economy”.