SMALL businesses could be given a helping hand by the council which is considering making parking free at Christmas and easing parking restrictions.

Council leader Chris Robbins made the announcement at a full council meeting last night that the council is considering making it's four municipal car parks free for shoppers in the run up to Christmas to help struggling businesses.

The announcement followed the Conservatives call for the council to do all it can to help local businesses during the recession by temporarily easing parking restrictions.

The call comes after a number of complaints from traders that their businesses are struggling since the introduction of parking permits in bays near town centre shops.

Bill Hunt, owner of a Hoe Street garage, spoke at the Town Hall meeting on behalf of local businesses asking the council to help after his business has been hit by a 200 per cent increase in the cost of parking permits.

Conservative Cllr Alan Siggers, who put forward the motion that was unanimously agreed, said: “If you want to buy a loaf of bread, it takes you longer to buy a scratch and sniff card for parking and put it in your car than it takes to buy the bread.”

Conservative Cllr Edwin Northover, who seconded the motion, said that he had received a parking ticket while stopping for a few minutes to buy a sausage roll at Percy Ingle's bakery.

He said: “We need to be grown up about this and realise that businesses are struggling. We need to support them and put this before the the coffers of Waltham Forest.”

Small business owners have welcomed the council's pledge, but said they want to see the parking permits near shops scrapped permanently.

Ajaib Hussain, 40, owner of a Leytonstone High Road laundry, said many of his customers need to stop for just a couple of minutes to drop or collect items and sometimes get fined while buying a parking voucher.

He said: “It has really affected by business. I think easing the parking charges would really help because it is a big problem for us.”

Yasir Rana, 38, has been a mini cab driver for ten years in Leytonstone and said it is harder than it has ever been because of parking charges.

He said: “They seem to be robbing cab drivers from every corner because I have to pay for a licence and road tax already.

“I have a disabled person with me today and she only wants to stop for maybe 30 minutes, but I have to pass on the cost of the parking and she will complain. It should be free near the shops. They should be trying to help us.”