HAMPSHIRE councils raked in nearly £10m in parking charges in just a year, the Daily Echo can reveal today.

Town hall bosses are making huge profits from hardpressed motorists at a time when they are cutting services and petrol prices remain sky high.

Campaigners accused local authorities of using car owners as a “cash cow” and warned that parking charges were discouraging drivers from shopping in centres.

In 2011/12 alone, drivers provided £9.8m for council coffers – an increase of 44 per cent on the previous year – according to official figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Southampton City Council turned a £2.5m loss in 2010/11 into a £1.3m profit the following year – while in the same period Winchester City Council more than doubled its windfall to £2.7m Eastleigh Borough Council made a £1.25m profit from parking in 2011/12 – a 27 per cent increase.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This massive rise in parking charges over the last year suggests that councils are using already hard-pressed motorists as a cash cow.

“The councils’ actions will seem all the more unfair to drivers when they discover that these local authorities have been reducing spending on highways.

“What’s more, these hikes in parking charges are likely to have discouraged people from driving into town centres to go shopping, meaning that high street businesses suffer too.”

But Southampton City Council insisted parking revenue was vital because the city was facing its worst budget cuts ever.

Councillor Asa Thorpe, cabinet member for transport and environment, said: “Southampton City Council spends more than £50m a year on transport services and we are currently facing budget cuts of up to £20m.

“Parking revenue helps lessen the effect of these cuts as they can be spent on transport services such as filling potholes and road improvement projects.

“The council’s income from parking revenue in 2011/12 was 17 per cent higher than 2010/11 which reflects smaller outgoings than the previous year.”

Eastleigh Borough Council leader Cllr Keith House said parking charges were a vital way of maintaining services and keeping council tax below inflation.

Each council’s total parking profit from fees, fines and permits was calculated after the amount spent on road maintenance and improvements.

Simon Best, chief executive of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), which complied the figures, said: “Councils are making recordbreaking profits from parking, while cutting road safety spending on life-saving services such as education for young drivers, cycle training and safe routes to schools schemes.

“At the same time cuts to road maintenance will mean a backlog of repairs which will simply cost more to fix in the long term.”

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “Under our local government finance reforms, councils will now benefit from calling off the war on the motorist, encouraging shoppers and growing their town centres.

“Income from on-street and off-street parking only rose by 3.7 per cent in the last year, which is lower than the prevailing rate of inflation.”

Winchester City Council was unavailable to comment.