PROPOSALS by Waverley Borough Council to increase town car park charges to £1 for the first hour have been branded “utterly unacceptable” by town traders.

Haslemere Chamber of Trade protested Waverley should stop treating motorists as “cash cows” and warned it would deliver a body blow to small retailers locally, because it could drive more customers over the border where town rates are cheaper.

Midhurst offers free parking for the first two hours as an incentive to increase footfall and Chichester District Council has frozen any increase in hourly charges until 2018.

Members of Waverley’s ‘watchdog’ joint overview and scrutiny committee (O&S) will get the first chance to comment on plans to charge £1 (now 90p) at Haslemere High Street car park and 80p (now 60p) at Chestnut Avenue car park, at a meeting on Monday.

The proposals, which also affect five council car parks in Godalming and two each in Farnham and Cranleigh, are just some of a number of cost-cutting, income-generating schemes put forward to enable Waverley to offset a forecast budget shortfall for 2017/18 of £1.15million.

Further proposals affecting Haslemere include reviving previous plans to improve Wey Hill Fairground car park and introduce charging, which were put on hold following an outcry in the town.

Reaction to the budget proposals after the O&S meeting will be presented to executive on Tuesday, February 7, when members will be asked to approve the details of the 2017/18 financial strategy – with final ratification by full council on Tuesday, February 21.

Haslemere Chamber president David Goddin condemned the proposed increased parking fees as a “unwelcome damper” on business confidence.

He said: “Retailers in particular have been through a tough year, which has seen the closure of several shops.

“Contributing factors have included high business rates, part-closures of the High Street car park for improvements and added pressure on all car parks and kerbside parking during the recent redevelopment of the station car park.

“I appreciate the council is in a difficult position, trying to deliver world-class services to match public expectations – with government financial backing dwindling to nothing.

“But the council needs to learn from business that increasing prices is not a good solution to cash shortfalls.

“Similarly, raising short-term car park charges is not a good way to attract people to the town.

“The chamber has long held the view the council should be doing more to boost business – not raising barriers to trade by excessive taxing of shoppers and other visitors who come by car. Attracting more shoppers to the town means more profitable businesses and fewer vacant shops, which in turn underpins business rates.

“Short-term parkers are typically people who ‘pop into town’ for a quick errand. They are the people we should be encouraging to use our central car parks, because they spend money in the local shops.

“The council could do a lot for its reputation by introducing a 30-minute tariff for the benefit of these people – and the local economy.

“The time has come for the council to look more creatively at its methods for financing service provision and stop treating motorists as cash cows.”

Former chamber president Craig McGowan called on all borough councillors to reject the proposed increase. “This is utterly unacceptable,” he said.

“It is clear we have a set of councillors who have completely removed themselves from the economic reality of business life here in Haslemere, particularly, the town centre. During my time as president I attended many meetings in which I produced hard evidence of the car park charges at neighbouring competitor towns which were already starting to attract custom away from Haslemere.

“It is clear absolutely no attention was paid to such data and it is clear there is little or no consideration given to the economic welfare of the town.”

Borough councillor Jim Edwards, who is Waverley’s portfolio holder for environment, said: “The joint overview and scrutiny committee is being asked to consider, in the light of the significant budget shortfall, a range of proposals on how Waverley’s budget can be balanced in 2017/18.

The meeting would debate a suggestion to raise parking tariffs in 11 of Waverley’s 26 car parks, he said.

“Any increase in charges is not popular and it isn’t something we consider lightly. However the council has to consider raising charges in order to achieve savings over the next four years while continuing to deliver high-quality services. Any additional income raised from the potential increase will be invested back into the borough’s car parks to ensure they’re maintained, welcoming and accessible.

“Improvements will include carrying out resurfacing works, filling in pot holes and generally improving their overall standard of maintenance and appearance.