Papers to be presented to Rushmoor’s cabinet next Thursday propose the abolition of the popular “free after three” deal in Aldershot High Street car park, the extension of charges to include Sundays and bank holidays and an increase in long-stay parking charges across the borough.

The proposal has outraged some retailers and prompted allegations from councillors that the Tory administration kept its intention to raise charges under wraps during the local elections for fear of a voter backlash.

Liberal Democrat leader and Aldershot town centre businessman Craig Card was incredulous about the proposals:

“They’re trying to sneak this in. For this to get to the cabinet 12 days after an election means the paper must have been worked on for a few months.

“The car parks are not making a loss yet they want to increase charges and make £265,500.”

Although the planned increases cover the whole of the borough, Cllr Card said Farnborough was in a better position to weather the increase because improvements in the town centre were now in the pipeline.

But, he said, Aldershot can not make such a boast and therefore can only be damaged further by the increases.

“The introduction of evening parking charges is not going to encourage people to come into the town centre,” added Cllr Card.

“If they are going to go ahead with these increases what’s it going to be spent on? Is it going to go towards subsidising the £600,000 mis-management of the budget last year?”

Jenny Rawlins, Aldershot town centre manager questioned the council paper’s claim to have consulted on the car parking charge increases.

She said none of the retailers she had spoken to have been contacted in relation to the proposed changes.

“Who have they consulted with, because they have not consulted with the Town Centre Management Company and they have not consulted with any of the major retailers?” she said.

While agreeing with the council that car parks should not be run at a loss she said it was wrong to run them at a profit too.

“We have got to ask the cabinet not to make any decisions on May 22 until full consultation with the TCM Co and the retailers has been conducted in an effective way.”

The outrage stems from aborted increases in car parking charges last October.

At the time the cabinet watered down plans for increases. The decision was taken then to maintain “free after three”, and free Sunday parking and see whether over the following 12 months the worth of both schemes could be proved.

But now the council is looking at making increases in June this year, several months short of the test period and to the best of retailers’ knowledge without engaging retailers in consultation.

However, cabinet member for the environment, Roland Dibbs, defended the increases saying that retailers had produced no evidence to suggest the value of the parking concessionary schemes in Aldershot.

When it was put to him that the cabinet had decided in October to give retailers a year to prove whether the schemes had any effect on business, and that by deciding now they were making a decision four months early, he said: “The reason is that the increases should have gone in July last year.”

He reasoned that it will be a year come June that the cabinet had decided to increase charges and that it was not disingenuous to do so — even though the cabinet said in October that the concessions would have a 12 month period of grace.