CAR parking will be FREE in the week before Christmas.

And the decision by Argyll and Bute Council to suspend charges in the all paid for car parks throughout the county, in the four days up until Christmas, has been welcomed by Helensburgh Chamber of Commerce.

The decision to make all car parking free from December 21 to 24 inclusive came following discussions with the Dunoon and Cowal Business Association which made a case for support for town centres in the run up to Christmas.

Ian Stewart, chairman of the Helensburgh Chamber of Commerce traffic management committee, said following a chamber meeting on Tuesday: "This move by the council is to be welcomed.

"It should help to encourage people to shop locally and it will also encourage business people to use the car parks and free up short term spaces on the streets." He continued: "This is a very positive move by the council in a time when economic downturn and constant bad weather is affecting trade.

"We cannot afford to give people any excuse to shop elsewhere and we are fully in support of this council decision to help our town centres." And Mr Stewart concluded: "I am hopeful that this will be a benchmark for future discussions with the council on Helensburgh traffic management issues and for decisions to be made on parking in the town in 2010." It was suggested at Tuesday's Chamber meeting that the chamber should consider contacting all the business organisations in Argyll and Bute to see if there was a possibility of a joint approach to the council over parking charges.

The report before the council last week informed councillors that the suspension of parking charges for the four days would cost the council approximately £8,000 in income but that that shortfall could be met from the £87,000 set aside for area use of car parking income.

It also said that the suspension would "show the council as a willing partner in the local business community's attempts to maximise economic value to communities across Argyll and Bute." Commenting on the decision, taken by the Council's Executive Committee in a meeting in Campbeltown, Helensburgh Councillor Gary Mulvaney, Conservative Group Leader and Argyll and Bute Parliamentary Candidate said: "This is a welcome move.

"Having spoken to many local businesses in recent weeks, I know that things are certainly tough for our shops and retailers in this recession.

"This initiative, which follows on from a suggestion from the Dunoon and Cowal Business Association shows that we understand and can help a little."