The Northern Ireland Assembly has frozen car parking charges in city centres until 2015.

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy said the freeze, which will last for the remainder of the budget period in March 2015, will “give a much-needed boost to our local economy”. It was part of a £200m package to stimulate the Northern Ireland economy. Other measures included an extension of the small business rate relief scheme which provides 3,500 businesses with a 20% discount.

He said: “This is exactly the sort of mechanism we need to give a confidence boost to traders and those who shop and work in our towns and cities and it illustrates that elected representatives can deliver positively for own people.”

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts welcomed the decision. “This is a very welcome development which NIIRTA has been lobbying for to give our town and city centres more support in these difficult times,” he said. “This is an early Christmas present to both local traders and shoppers and we appreciate the efforts of Minister Kennedy in securing Executive agreement on this.”

“While this package is not a ‘silver bullet’ in addressing our huge economic challenges, it does include practical and imaginative solutions to assisting retailers and small businesses get through the worst of this recession and toward a sustainable recovery,” added Roberts.