Southampton parking bosses have made a U-turn over controversial plans to introduce charges in more city car parks.
It comes after business leaders warned that it would stall trade.
Under budget plans, charges were set to be rolled out in district centre car parks to raise £70,000.
This comes as the city council scrambles to plug a £20m black hole in its harshest budget ever. If realised, free parking for up to five hours would have been scrapped and replaced with a 50p hourly rate.
But fury from businesses has forced the Labour administration to back off their plan. Car parks targeted under the plan included Lances Hill, Angel Crescent and Whites Road in Bitterne, Westridge Road in Portswood, Oakbank Road and Portsmouth Road in Woolston and Howards Grove and Marlborough Road North in Shirley. City council transport boss Cllr Asa Thorpe said: “Our consultation has been ongoing and we have received a lot of representations from traders’ associations.
“They made a very strong case and it was something they felt was inappropriate. There were concerns it would have a detrimental impact.”
The decision has been welcomed by businesses and traders’ associations across the city. Andy Grace, owner of Wear-Abouts and chairman of Woolston Traders' Association, said: “It would have been the death knell for our area.
“Free parking is one of the unique things that give Woolston, Bitterne, Portswood and Shirley an edge over the city centre.”
Robert Gibbs, who owns Gibbs Electronics, which has been trading in Shirley since 1949, said: “We have customers who make a point of coming here because of the free parking.
“The greatest danger for an area is that people will get out of the habit of visiting and then everyone is in trouble.”
The U-turn will be rubber stamped at a Cabinet meeting tomorrow which will also discuss cuts to youth services. However, city bosses are still pressing ahead with charging for currently free evening off and on-street parking in the city centre.
Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jimmy Chesnutt said the brakes should also be applied to these plans as well. He said: “It seems to me very short-sighted. Parking should not be a sort of taxation.
“It should be part of a business strategy – if you want to expand as part of the economy should you really be increasing the costs to those visiting Southampton at night?
“As well as businesses suffering, what about those working in the restaurants?”
Concerns were also raised when Cllr Thorpe was grilled about his parking plans during an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting. Chairman Cllr Jeremy Moulton said low-wage workers would park outside the city centre, clogging up residental streets.
Safety fears for workers walking alone after their shifts were also raised. Cllr Thorpe said any issues would be dealt with if they arose. Proposals to inflict £20m cuts to services across the city will be discussed at council’s annual budget meeting next month.