SHOPKEEPERS experiencing a boost in trade have welcomed a free parking scheme, but believe more could be done to raise awareness of it.

Waltham Forest Council introduced the 15-minute free parking initiative in all voucher-parking bays across the borough at the start of December to encourage shoppers back to their local high streets.

And independent retailers say business over Christmas has got better because people no longer fear getting a costly parking ticket if they are just popping into the shops.

Val Golds, who opened V&A Books and Gifts in The Avenue, Highams Park, with husband Andrew in November, said trade has improved because of the free parking.

She said: “People are being attracted back to the area because they can park for free. It’s really helped us, we’re very pleased with how it’s going.

“For shoppers who know what they want it’s a real benefit. They come in and ask for two calendars or a certain book and pop off again, even browse a little, it’s quite convenient.”

But she added that many customers come in expecting to pay for a voucher, and said more visible signage than the signs on the ticket machine would help raise awareness of the scheme.

Owner of Forest Cafe in Hoe Street, Walthamstow, Alie Forest, agreed, claiming few of his customers knew about the initiative.

He said: “It’s good, we’ve seen more business because of it. People can nip in for five minutes now where there was no chance before. But not everyone knows about it. They should tell more people, that would help us more.”

It is the same criticism levied at the authority by traders in Station Road, Chingford, after it was introduced there in July 2011, though the council claim the reason they rolled the scheme out borough-wide was because of its success in Chingford and Leyton High Road.

Ahsam Hussain, assistant manager of Monarch Sports, in High Road, Leytonstone, said it was a boost at a time when the shop is competing with large chain stores.

He added: “People who come in now get a chance to look around and aren’t rushing out in a hurry. They get to see everything else we sell too.

“However, it could be advertised much better, in our shops and on noticeboards, because the way people find out is by ringing us up looking for places to park for free.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We have advertised in Waltham Forest News and have had it covered by the Guardian, but a lot of awareness is by word of mouth.

“We want to encourage people to shop locally and this is an excellent way to do that.”