Councils could kill off high street trade if they hike up town centre parking charges, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) has warned.
In recent months, local authorities across the UK have proposed hefty increases in charges imposed on motorists parking on streets and in council-owned car parks. Areas affected include Burnley, Nottingham, Shrewsbury and Cornwall, and in some cases, increases of 150% have been tabled by town halls.
The councils involved claim the hikes are necessary to plug shortfalls in their budgets caused by widespread cuts in local government funding. However, the FPB warns raising the rates could put small retailers out of business as shoppers as driven away from the high street and towards out-of-town retail parks, which offer ample free parking.
It says the move will hit small traders at a time when they are facing the prospect of a potentially damaging downturn in trade next year, due to the looming VAT rise in January.
spoke to one independent retailer in Shrewsbury, who said: "It's dreadful. All the retailers in Shrewsbury are against it. It stops people coming into the town - they shop at all the big places on the outskirts. People say they don't come in because the parking is so expensive. Coming up for Christmas it's a bit cruel."
FPB head of campaigns Jane Bennett said: "Simply putting up parking charges might seem like an easy and convenient way for local authorities to plug their budget shortfalls. However, it could well prove to be a false economy as it will drive even more trade out of town centres, leading to more empty units, fewer visitors and lower amounts raised through business rates."
She added: "Around the UK, many forward-thinking town halls have deliberately kept their parking charges down - or even kept parking free altogether - in order to boost trade. They have been rewarded with thriving town centres, full of varied and unique shops. We would urge the councils who are proposing to push up their parking prices to think again and follow this example instead."