PARKING charges in Southampton will not rise for the next three years.

That is the pledge from Labour council chiefs as controversial evening parking fees come into force in the city centre.

But opposition councillors have accused them of doing “too little, too late” having already implemented the hikes.

The decision has been one of the most controversial made by Labour bosses since they came to power in May 2012.

Flat evening charges of £2 have now been introduced until midnight in city centre car parks and 8pm in on-street parking bays.

There had been uproar among city centre organisations, businesses and residents at the charges, with claims that it would scare away vital trade.

The Tory opposition has also said it would launch a legal challenge against the hikes because Labour has previously claimed it was being done to balance the books – which they say is illegal.

But council leader Simon Letts says the statements arose out of “confusion”, because the parking budgets are included in the council’s complete budget.

Announcing the freeze he said: “I have listened to what people have said and I have listened to the business community and it’s clear that there is no reason why charges should be increased and therefore they are going to be frozen or reduced for three years. Then we will have a review and see if any change is appropriate.

“We are anxious to retain our part of car parking in the city centre against private competitors, but we don’t think it’s appropriate to raise charges in the next three years.”

Stressing the recent increases had been “necessary”, he added: “I would like the council to publish an annual car parking account, which says ‘this is what we spent on this and this is where this money went’.

“This would be good in the interests of transparency.”

But the Tory opposition has again criticised Cllr Letts’ administration, with group leader Royston Smith saying his party are continuing with its legal challenge.

He said: “It’s too little, too late. They’ve already damaged the night time economy by pushing through these unfair and unnecessary charges, which we are not sure are legal.

“It’s a case of shutting the stable door after the car parking horse has bolted.”