SHOPPERS in Alton have long been able to make use of a number of short-stay car parking spaces throughout the town centre, for up to 30 minutes without paying.

But that could soon change under new plans for on-street parking charges being developed by the county council, as it struggles to find £80 million to cover a further cut in funding from the government.

County chiefs agreed last Thursday to develop ‘pay to park’ plans in “a number of towns in the county and other, non-retail areas”.

And according to Cllr Russell Oppenheimer, Hampshire County Council’s new executive member for highways operations and member for Petersfield Hangers, the move could benefit shoppers and retailers.

“I want to challenge this reflex reaction that on-street pay-and-display charges are a bad thing,” he said.

“It’s a useful part of Active Travel plans. And on-street parking can also benefit shops as you get a higher turnover of users.”

But the proposal has already prompted concern in Alton – with Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour councillors all speaking against the prospect of taking away the town’s free parking bays.

County councillor for Alton Town, Andrew Joy, said he has sought assurances that Alton will not be targeted for charges – having successfully campaigned for the free parking limit to be extended from 15 to 30 minutes in the town.

And Lib Dem councillor for Alton Amery, Steve Hunt, fears “the imposition of on-street parking charges will drive more people away from our town centre and push them towards out-of-town shopping where parking is free”.

He added: “Hampshire are yet again wielding the axe to their budget as they seek to get out of their financial crisis. This time it is shoppers and the businesses they support that will pay the cost.

“This is completely wrong and Hampshire should reconsider this scheme that will harm Alton town-centre businesses.”

Labour councillor for Alton Eastbrooke, Paula Langley, also criticised the plans, saying: “It is vital for our town that the free on-street parking spaces remain.

“There are plenty of places to park and pay for longer visits but we must retain some short-term free spaces to aid those quick ‘drop-in’ moments we all have for goods and services on the High Street.

“To hit day trippers, shoppers and the tourism and retail industry with this, when we are not yet even out of lockdown, shows a complete lack of support for business from this Conservative administration.”

* What do you think of the proposals? Would they damage the town’s traders? Or should you pay to pop to town to do your shopping? Email us at [email protected]