SHOPPERS will benefit from free parking in Southend this Christmas as council chiefs try to boost trade.

Southend Council will throw open the gates to thirteen car parks throughout the town on Sundays and Thursday evenings over the festive period.

Rochford District Council also plans to scrap charges on the four weekends before December 25 to entice more people into its stores.

The move has been welcomed by hard-pressed punters, who said they would definitely take advantage of the scheme.

Tim Morrison, 37, of Ness Road, Shoebury, said: “It’s a good idea.

“Christmas is always an expensive time of year, so any breaks you can get are very welcome.”

Laura Opelheimer, 44, of Genesta Road, Westcliff, added: “Parking’s always one of those things that you don’t like to pay for.

“When you’re already spending a lot on Christmas presents, it’s nice not to have to face that as well."

Free parking will be available in Southend after 4pm on Thursday, December 6, 13 and 20, and all day on Sunday, December 9 and 16.

The scheme was first introduced in 2010 and repeated last year.

Tony Cox, the Tory councillor responsible for transport, said: “It gave residents, visitors to the town and retailers a helping hand.

“It encourages people to stay longer, so they can make the most of our shops.”

In Rochford and Rayleigh, where parking is usually charged until 1pm on Saturdays, shoppers will be able to enjoy free entry over four weekends, starting on December 1.

Tory councillor Keith Hudson said: “We’ll be offering free parking over the weekends before Christmas to benefit residents.”

There are no plans to extend free parking in Basildon beyond the usual offer of all day on Sundays and bank holidays, meaning Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day will be included.

However, the Eastgate Shopping Centre will stay open until 8pm on Thursdays, starting next week , and will open from 9am to 8pm from Monday, December 17 to Friday, December 21.

The centre will also open from 9am to 6pm on Christmas Eve.

No free parking is planned in Castle Point, but shops in the Knightswick Centre in Canvey will stay open for an extra half-hour in the week before Christmas.