NFRN retailers across Somerset fear increased car-parking charges and a threat to free Sunday parking will lead to further migration of customers from town centres. 

North Somerset District Council has brought its Monday to Saturday on-street parking charges forward from 9am to 8am while charges have increased by between 15% and 20% on parking up to 24 hours. A Sunday charge, which is currently free, is under review. 

Derek Cook, NFRN South West district president, said increased charges would drive people away from already-struggling town centres. “Councils are only interested in today, not the future. They need to encourage people into towns with things like free parking for a couple of hours. More customers would attract retailers to open new stores, too,” he said. Mr Cook added restrictions to free parking in his own town, Devizes, were also expected.

Meanwhile, in Yeovil a proposed parking charge hike and Sunday charge have been put on hold. South Somerset District Council had wanted to introduce a £1 Sunday flat-rate and a 10% increase from Monday to Saturday. 

A council spokesperson confirmed changes will now be implemented in July 2019, with plans to increase the charge every four years. 

NFRN member Teresa Marshall, who runs Crofton Stores near the town centre, said she believed it would further discourage visitors. 

“There’s no Sunday bus service into Yeovil, so if people have to pay to park there is every chance they will go elsewhere. Yeovil’s town centre is already in decline due to rising rents. I can’t see this helping.”  

Labour councillor for Yeovil South Terry Ledlie urged the council to create a better plan to raise revenue that didn’t put the local economy at risk. 

He said: “In nearby centres like Radstock and Dorchester, car parking is free at weekends. South Somerset District Council must look after its local retailers. If the council must increase charges, why not consider having the first hour of parking free?”