Bradford city centre must woo car drivers with the promise of free parking or face terminal decline, a leading councillor warned yesterday with the backing of the AA.

Councillor John Pennington, the Conservative group’s spokesman for transport, is demanding free on and off-street short stay parking for the coming financial year to help grease the wheels of commerce.

“It’s time to be nice to motorists,” he said.

And his proposal has been endorsed by motorist group the AA, which said last night: “It would definitely boost Bradford’s economy.”

The city’s Chamber of Trade also gave its support to the idea: “It would be wonderful and help redress the balance regarding competition from out-of-town retail sites,” said its secretary Val Summerscales.

The Tory group has added £500,000 in its budget proposals to allow city centre shoppers two hours’ free parking and will present them to a special meeting of the full Council tomorrow.

Coun Pennington said: “People have got no money for tickets, never mind parking fines and if we want them to spend in our shops we’ve got to encourage them here in the first place.

“Bradford’s lost its footfall and if it costs a few quid to get people in then so what?

“If you give a retailer the opportunity of a customer, they will turn that into profit and flourish.

“So we’ve got to offer free, convenient and safe parking.

“The knock-on effect will attract a greater public and even more shops.

“You do not need to spend huge amounts on infrastructure, people regenerate, if given the opportunity'.

Coun Pennington (Bingley) concluded: “I hope the ruling Labour Group adopt my proposals to give existing businesses a much-needed tonic and, for once, show active Council support.”

The AA’s spokesman on road and transport issues Paul Watters said it welcomed Coun Pennington’s idea.

“It’s good to hear the pendulum is swinging the other way in favour of the motorist,” Mr Watters said.

“Drivers are wrestling with high fuel prices with 70 per cent saying that effects their parking and shopping behaviour.

“Everyone from Mary Portas to Eric Pickles and the Department of Transport are urging councils not to hit people with parking tickets and fines.

“It would definitely boost Bradford’s economy.”