Clothes shop pays for customers to park their cars after council cuts Christmas offer

Peter Fox MS visited Utopia for Small Business Saturday <i>(Image: Natalie Davies)</i>
Peter Fox MS visited Utopia for Small Business Saturday (Image: Natalie Davies)

A CHEPSTOW business owner is covering the cost of her customers’ parking after Monmouthshire County Council withdrew their offer for December weekends.

Natalie Davies, 54, says her fashion boutique Utopia on Moor Street has been “caught in the conflict” between customer frustration and council cuts.

Monmouthshire council has scrapped the scheme which offered free parking in council-run car parks and bus travel on December weekends.

Explaining the change, a council spokesperson told the Argus that inflationary costs have squeezed public sector finances across the UK.

This decision is set to save the council £20,000.

Ms Davies, who took over Utopia in November 2021, is offering to pay for two hours of her customers’ parking at any car park in Chepstow from Monday to Saturday – so long as they take a photo of their ticket and spend £35 in-store.

“I want customers to shop locally and it was time to take a stand,” Ms Davies said. “I decided to make a small gesture from a small company.

“Two hours allows them to shop somewhat, but the council’s all-day offer would really let a lot of businesses make money on the day.”

The council’s decision has drawn criticism from Peter Fox, MS for Monmouth and shadow finance minister for the Welsh Conservatives, who visited Utopia on Small Business Saturday.

“It’s only three or four Saturdays in December but taking that away is taking customers out of town,” Ms Davies said.

“It’s hard being a sole trader in a town where customers are losing faith over the number of closures.

“You want them to have an incentive to shop locally and free parking is essential. We have an eclectic mix of independent and brand names here and December is often our bread and butter month.

“With the free parking gone, essentially they are forcing people to shop in retail parks over the Severn Bridge which do offer it.”

A spokesperson for Monmouthshire County Council said they “recognise the importance of Christmas festivities” to its town centres.

They said: “The County Council will work with the town councils, churches, voluntary groups and local businesses to promote the Christmas lights, festivals and parades – every opportunity to bring our communities and businesses together.

“Due to inflation impacting the cost of delivering Council services including social care, the Council cannot offer free weekend parking. Throughout Wales and the UK, public sector finances are under immense pressure. The council has implemented a budget recovery process that has meant difficult decisions being made on spending.”