'GREAT news for shoppers and residents'.

That is how local councillors have described a decision that will see Otley retain free parking until September.

Leeds City Council suspended charges at its car parks and on-street parking bays back in March when the COVID-19 lockdown began.

Fees are set to be reintroduced, however, from Saturday, July 4 to coincide with the easing of restrictions and the reopening of all kinds of businesses and venues - including bars and restaurants, churches, cinemas and museums.

The charges will be applied across Leeds but not, thanks to lobbying by ward councillors, in Otley.

Instead, the town is to be granted a couple of months' grace during which parking fees will remain suspended.

Councillors Colin Campbell, Sandy Lay and Ryk Downes (all Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) have hailed the news.

Cllr Lay said: "As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic Leeds suspended all charges in its car parks.

"Apart from the city centre, Otley is the only outer area which has to pay for parking so we were happy that this arrangement (the suspension of fees until September) would help Otley's struggling businesses."

Cllr Campbell said: "This is great news for Otley shoppers and residents.

"Leeds were to reintroduce charges from the beginning of July but, given Otley's special nature, we asked that the charges in the town continue to be suspended to encourage shoppers to return - and Leeds have agreed."

Cllr Downes added: "This will build on the work the Town Council and Otley BID have undertaken to remind everyone that Otley is open for business.

"They have worked hard to keep the town ticking over during these recent difficult times and we would like to thank them for everything they have done."

Local councillors have been trying for years to get the city council to end its parking fees in the town for good, and launched a renewed bid to secure the change at the start of this year.

In their letter to the local authority in January the ward councillors said: "The town is unique in Leeds in that it is the only area, outside the city centre, where residents and visitors are required to pay for parking on council car parks.

"This is an unfair burden on Otley and...disproportionately affects local businesses."

While announcing in June that parking fees would soon be restarting, Leeds City Council Leader Councillor Judith Blake said: "While suspending charges during the lockdown was the right thing to do, as lockdown restrictions begin to lift and shops and businesses start to reopen it is time for us to resume parking charges to help manage demand and usage."

NHS and social care staff who are carrying out front line COVID-19 duties will be able to keep parking for free so long as they display a valid permit.