CIVIC chiefs are set to back down today and ditch controversial plans to make disabled drivers pay to park in the New Forest.

A report to the district council’s ruling Cabinet says it would be “unreasonable” in the current economic climate to end the free parking enjoyed by thousands of Blue Badge holders.

Cabinet members will also be asked to approve a proposal to freeze parking charges in the Forest for another 12 months.

Plans to make disabled drivers pay to use council-owned car parks in the area were revealed by the Daily Echo last year.

Members of the ruling Tory group said the proposed new fees would boost the authority’s annual income by £76,000.

But two Conservative councillors, Chris Lagdon and Ron Scrivens, defected to UKIP in protest at the plan. Speaking at the time Cllr Lagdon said: “I cannot be associated with a party which treats the disabled of our community with such contempt.”

Critics claimed that Blue Badge holders on low incomes would face financial hardship if the scheme went ahead.

They also warned that disabled motorists would sidestep the charges by exercising their right to park on double yellow lines, causing congestion in busy town centre streets.

Campaigners vowed to challenge the necessary traffic regulation orders, saying they amounted to discrimination against the disabled.

A report to today’s meeting says Cllr Paul Vickers, Cabinet member for planning and transport, believes it would be “inappropriate” in the current economic climate to increase parking charges.

It adds: “He also considers it would be unreasonable to introduce any new charges, including charging for Blue Badge holders.”

The council’s U-turn will be welcomed by disabled motorists across the Forest, plus those who visit the area.

Had the scheme gone ahead they would have had to buy a ticket every time they used a council-owned car park.

Alternatively they would have had to buy an annual parking permit for £100 or £20, depending on whether they used long or short-stay spaces.

Cllr Chris Harrison, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, welcomed the council’s about-turn.

He said: “We told them from the start that it would be wrong to place this added burden on a vulnerable group in our society.

“It’s wonderful that they’ve now done a complete U-turn because of pressure.”