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Hikes to car parking fees in Cromer, Sheringham, Wells, Holt, North Walsham and Fakenham branded a 'stealth tax'

PUBLISHED: 15:58 20 February 2012 | UPDATED: 17:31 20 February 2012

Increases to parking fees across north Norfolk have been branded a 'stealth tax' PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Increases to parking fees across north Norfolk have been branded a 'stealth tax' PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011

A hike in car parking fees across north Norfolk has been branded a "stealth tax" by campaigners who have revealed spaces throughout the district net more than £1.1m.

Opponents are now pushing for town hall chiefs to change their mind about bringing in the charges, which they say will be damaging for the local economy.

Figures show in 2010/11 car parks brought in a whopping £1.4m but cost North Norfolk District Council just £277,180 to maintain.

The council has said by increasing charges at car parks in Holt, Sheringham, Cromer and Wells, scrapping free spaces in North Walsham and Fakenham and introducing a £1 evening fee it has managed to avoid a council tax increase, as it has to find £1m of savings.

But campaigners to the controversial parking plans - including the North Norfolk Labour Party - have hit out at the hikes, due to come into force in April.

Tim Bartlett, chair of the opposition party, said: “The Conservatives have made a big deal about freezing council tax, but are basically asking those who need to park closer to shops, typically the elderly and less mobile, to subsidise the council budget.

“These parking charges are a stealth tax, they are regressive and they are bad for local trade.”

Labour members believe free spaces can be maintained and evening fees avoided if costs are passed onto tourists by increasing fees in summer and reducing them in winter.

And they said the figures they revealed through the Freedom of Information Act back up their proposals.

The numbers showed Runton Road car park in Cromer took more than £52,000 in August 2010 but only £1,459 in November of the same year, and in the same months Sheringham’s station car park made £47,706 and £7,836 respectively.

The group is now writing to every member of the council asking them to support its seasonal scheme ahead of Wednesday’s full meeting when 2012/13s budget is set to be passed.

Sam Rushworth, from the party, added: “The figures we obtained reveal just how quiet our town centres get in the winter months. Even in towns less associated with tourism we see huge dip in winter visitors.

“Increased winter parking charges will not significantly increase council revenue but they will deter people from coming into our towns to shop.”

The council’s Liberal Democrat members have also hit out at the parking charges and said they will not support them by proposing they be removed from the budget.

But cabinet member Trevor Ivory said the issue could not be “re-visited” as the increases were approved in December when members discussed the council’s savings package, which included the car parking hike.

He pointed out that Lib Dem councillors had abstained from the vote in December and added: “Putting up parking charges is not something we as a Conservative council wanted to do, but we had to strike a balance between delivering investment and making sure we didn’t put up council tax.”

A protest against the charges is planned to take place at the council offices before Wednesday’s meeting begins at 6pm.

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