Another year of free parking is set to begin in town centres across Merton, but there will be nearly half as many days to use it.

In years gone by, Merton Council has made all car parks managed by itself (except Coombe Lane in Raynes Park), free to park in over the four weekends leading up to December 25.

But this year it has decided this won't apply for the Saturdays of December 1, 8 and 15.

Leader of the council, Stephen Alambritis said the reason the free parking weekends was introduced in the first place was to encourage people to shop local.

“Merton is a business-like council and we want to support the local traders and firms which drive our local economy and make our high streets vibrant destinations," he said.

"I would encourage people living and working in Merton to support their local businesses, particularly at this time of year when they are shopping for Christmas gifts.

“Merton Council is offering Christmas shoppers free parking in its town centre car parks on six dates in December.

"This is the seventh year running that there will be free parking in council-managed car parks to encourage Christmas shoppers to spend their money with local businesses.”

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But as nearly 200 drivers have proved over the past two years, just because you can park for free, doesn't mean it won't cost you anything.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Wimbledon Times showed that during the free parking period in the past two years, 176 drivers have been issued with Penalty Charge Notices for a range of issues.

This included 14 PCN's for the weekend of December 24 and 24 last year as well as eight fines on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2016.

Most notably was Wimbledon's Hartfield Road Car Park where in the past two years 133 drivers have been caught out.

The exact dates for when free parking will be offered in all the council’s car parks, except Coombe Lane Car Park in Raynes Park, are on four Sundays – December 2, 9, 16 and 23 as well as on Saturday, December 22 and Monday, December 24