FREE off-peak parking will be offered on Southend seafront in a bid to boost trade for bars and restaurants.

Southend Council is to trial free parking after 6pm at the Seaway, Western Esplanade and Fairheads Green car parks between October 1 and March 1 next year, to encourage year-round trade.

Tony Cox, councillor responsible for for transport, said: “It is encouraging people to use Southend as a year-round attraction.

“I believe Southend has a lot to offer in the summer and the winter months.

“Hopefully more people will come during off-peak times if we scrap parking charges.”

The trial discount, agreed after intense lobbying from seafront traders, will bring the council’s beachfront car parks in line with those in the town, which are already free after 6pm.

Owners of pubs and amusement arcades in Marine Parade have complained they are the poor relation of the High Street, especially after 31 parking spaces were lost in the £7.6million City Beach revamp.

The council is trying to extend the town’s busy summer period and hopes the trial, which could be made permanent if successful, will help attract visitors to events such as the weekly fireworks in October and November.

Paul Thompson, chairman of Southend Seafront Traders’ Association, said: “It’s good news.

“It’s great the council has managed to do this and hopefully in the future it will carry on and be free after 6pm along the seafront through the summer too.”

Simon Patterson, joint-owner of Chinnerys, one of the Marine Parade pubs that could benefit, said: “It will definitely benefit the evening trade.

“Anything they do to reduce charges is welcome.”

John Lamb, Southend councillor responsible for regeneration, said: “People might not be coming during off-peak times because of the parking charges.

“Hopefully we are going to see a rise in visitors who come and spend their money during those periods.”