A FREE parking scheme is being extended in a bid to boost business in the countdown to Christmas.

Carlisle City Council says it is expanding is Free After 3pm programme to extra locations for late-night shopping on Thursdays.

Nigel Christian, the councillor responsible for environment and transport, said: “Our Free after Three parking scheme will be extended to include even more city centre car parks on Late Night Thursdays.

“We want to encourage shoppers to come to Carlisle and sample the many attractions we have available within the city centre.

“Our city is a great place to visit over the festive period and the free parking after 3pm incentive is another reason to choose Carlisle as your Christmas shopping venue.”

Under the current programme, parking in three city centre car parks is free after 3pm seven days a week.

Its aim is to support city centre businesses by encouraging more people to park up and spend time in shops, visitor attractions and enjoy places to eat.

The project is a pilot and started on August 1. It will run until the end of March next year.

It provides about 1,000 free car parking spaces in Caldew Riversid, Castle and Viaduct car parks, which are all owned and operated by the city council.

On Thursday’s between November 21 and December 19, that will be extended to the car parks at Bitts Park, Caldew Riverside, Castle, Civic Centre, Lowther Street, Paddy’s Market, The Sands Centre,Viaduct and West Walls.

The parking push is one of a range of incentives aimed at drawing visitors into the city and pushing the festive feelgood factor.

Boyband favourites East 17 The Wanted’s Max George will kickstart the countdown to Christmas with the switch-on of the seasonal illuminations in the city centre on Sunday, November 17.

Supported by a host of local dance groups and school choirs, the switch-on celebrations will be hosted by comedian Barbara Nice, famous for her appearances on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.

An afternoon of entertainment will take place in market square at the foot of the Old Town Hall.

Beginning at 3.30pm, the switch-on will be wrapped up by 5.30pm, marking the official start of the Christmas season in the city.

The event is being organised by Carlisle City Council.

The switch-on itself will be conducted by the Mayor of Carlisle, councillor Marilyn Bowman.

One of the most popular bands of the 1990s, East 17 sold nearly two million records and the same number of singles in the UK alone. Worldwide they have sold more than 18 million records. They are perhaps most well-known today for their Christmas hit, Stay Another Day.