CONTROVERSIAL charges for evening parking at Carlisle’s Sands Centre will be scrapped from next Friday - months earlier than planned.

It means those with tickets to the popular Christmas pantomime will not have to pay to park after 6pm.

The free evening parking arrangements come in on Friday, December 14, following a U-turn by Carlisle City Council’s ruling executive.

Normal prices will still apply before 6pm.

Evening charges came into force in April this year, meaning Sands Centre users had to pay to park between the hours of 8.30am and midnight.

However they proved so unpopular that leaders of the authority announced this week that they would be scrapped in next year’s budget.

But rather than wait until April, Labour’s Colin Glover said they have now decided - following the overwhelming response - to bring it forward.

The council leader said: “The feedback that we’ve had from people, both those in direct contact and on social media, has been so positive that we decided to bring it in as soon as possible.

“People have taken time to respond and have said they welcome it. We thought there’s no point waiting until April 1. The pantomime opens next week and there will be a lot of people parking at the Sands. A lot of families are finding life tough and we just wanted to support people as much as possible.”

Deputy leader Les Tickner said that planned redevelopment work at the Sands Centre will also cause some disruption to the car park, so it made sense to remove the charges before it starts.

Opposition Conservative councillors have welcomed the decision to scrap the charges immediately.

Tory James Bainbridge, who represents the Stanwix Rural ward, praised Labour councillors for listening to their calls.

“We are very glad to see that the charges are going. We’ve had a lot of feedback from residents and they were very unpopular,” he said.

“It’s better to do it now so that people going to the panto can have a good time and not worry they will be coming out to a parking ticket. It was a bad idea and should never have been introduced. We will be glad to see the back of it.”

This year’s panto, the Wizard of Oz, starts on Monday.

Mr Bainbridge added that it was a good example of politicians working together for the good of residents.

A formal notice, confirming the removal of the extended hours charging policy at the Sands Centre car park, has now been published on Carlisle City Council’s website.

Legally this must be advertised for five days before the changes can be brought into effect.

It states that, provided there are no objections, the council will not apply the car parking charges between the hours of 6pm and 11.59pm each day, effective from Friday, December 14.

It adds that there are no plans to reintroduce the charges in the 2019/20 financial year.

Mr Tickner said that the money they would lose in evening parking revenue would be offset because more people would want to visit the Sands.

“It’s not just the income. We’ve got to balance that with people not wanting to come back because of the parking costs,” he explained.

The original evening parking charges applied to the Sands Centre and Swift Bank car parks – and were in force from 8.30am until midnight.

The move proved unpopular at the time, with customers complaining that they would have to pay £2.90 on top of their ticket price and booking fee just to park their cars.

Many people took to social media to vent their frustrations.

The Sands Centre revamp will include a new swimming pool, to replace The Pools in James Street.