Stone councillors have hit out at proposals to increase charges at two town centre car parks next year.
The councillors have said new evening charges could affect the area’s night time economy.
A £1 evening and Sunday charge is set to be introduced at several Stafford Borough Council car parks, including those at Crown Street and Christchurch Way.
In addition hourly parking fees during Monday to Saturday mornings and afternoons are set to rise by at least 10p from January.
In Stafford this means one hour’s parking will go up from £1 to £1.10 – a 10% increase; but in Stone, where one hour’s parking is set to go up from 60p to 70p, it will mean a 16.7% rise.
At last Tuesday’s full meeting of Stafford Borough Council (November 19) the rises, which went on to be approved as part of the 2020 fees and charges, came under fire from a number of members.
Councillor Philip Leason said: “The percentage increase of car parking charges in Stone is higher than that of Stafford. When we debated this at scrutiny committee last week I was told it’s to bring Stone in line with Stafford – but Stone doesn’t have the large shops like Primark.
“These charges will do nothing to build the economy in Stone and the new £1 night time charge will do nothing to enhance the night time economy.
"These charges are really unfair for the people of Stone.”
Fellow Stone councillor Jill Hood said: “We are extremely fortunate in Stone; in a week’s time we will have four new businesses in town and will be able to enjoy a 98% occupancy in town – how many town centres can boast that?
"We have a thriving night time economy and people come from all around to visit Stone.
“We have massive problems with our residential streets because everyone is trying to find a free parking space.
"By charging at night it’s going to kill our night time economy and it’s going to stifle parking spaces – residents will be going absolutely bonkers about people parking outside their houses.
“How are we going to advertise the fact we are charging at night and on Sundays?
"Is it going to be one of those situations where people haven’t been aware of the charges for night time and on Sunday and end up being charged fines?”
It is not the first year rises in fees and charges have come in for criticism.
Councillor Aidan Godfrey said: “We have this every year; me or a colleague stands up and says what a completely unfair way of raising money for the authority.
“We’re still in the top quartile of councils that raise a lot of money from fees and charges. The reason it is unfair is you pay the same if you are rich or poor.
“When you put the car parking charges up by another 10p it doesn’t matter if you drive a Lamborghini or a Mini, it’s the same increase to you It is an aggressive tax that hits the poorest.”
However, Councillor Alexander Brown highlighted a benefit to the increase – months after the council pledged to work towards reducing carbon emissions in the borough.
“We should be discouraging people from driving into town”, he said. “I would have liked to have seen some form of electric vehicle provision.
“In my opinion council tax is the most unfair tax as it disproportionately taxes young families who need a larger house.”
Council leader Patrick Farrington said some of the parking charges had not been increased since 2008.
He added: “Every single year we have the same discussion and argument. We never have anything at all suggested by the opposition about how they would deal with things.”
Councillor Frances Beatty, cabinet member for economic development and planning, said: “When it comes to Stone it’s extremely pleasing to see this 98% occupancy rate. I’m delighted that Stone is doing extremely well.
“One of the things we will be doing with the increased charges is to continue the programme of repairs that are being undertaken across the car parks; that includes Tenterbanks, Castle Hill and Doxey Road.
“Some of the informal car parks will be brought back into use and there is a great deal of free parking for people.The parking fee is going to be very modest still, in terms of tens of pence increase.
“The other thing we are bringing in is paying by phone, so people who are in town but have realised they are staying in town will be able to top up their amount by phone.
"We have included free parking the weekend before Christmas for those who are concerned about a Scrooge.”