Fleet's council owned car parks will soon have 30 minutes free parking after 6pm and on Sundays.

Gavin Evans, cabinet member for Fleet town centre, won the new deal thanks to an amendment to to the Hart District Council budget.

He called for action to change a package of parking charges adopted last year, which included a 20p half-hour rate and a flat £1 evening charge after 6pm.

The evening charge was designed to allow visitors to visit a restaurant or an event at The Harlington without having to worry about how long they were spending in the car park.

“Unfortunately this had unintended consequences,” said Cllr Evans.

“Anyone who makes a short visit to the town centre such as to pick up a pint of milk, collect a takeaway or visit a cash machine, has to pay £1 to do so.

“This compares very poorly with the 20p charge during any weekday. You pay twice as much for parking as you do for your pint of milk.

“We needed a free half-hour for these kinds of trips.”

Cllr Evans said there was also the problem of the switch to the evening tariff.

“If you arrive at 5.50pm the change between day and evening tariffs means you pay £1.20 for half an hour.

“That’s 20p for the 10 minutes to six o’clock, plus £1 for the 20 minutes afterwards. This is confusing and deters people from visiting the town centre at all.

“With a free half hour after 6pm, anyone arriving at ten to six will pay 20p for half an hour, just as they would during the rest of the day.

“I’ve had many residents complain to me about these issues and rightly so.

“I’ve listened to their concerns and I’ve got the council to do something about it.”

Cllr Evans said he believed the ‘modest measure’ would protect the town centre.

“In fact it should help safeguard other car park revenue as people get in the habit of using the high street,” he added. “It wouldn’t have been long before people paying £1.20 for half an hour didn’t come into the town centre at all.”

Fleet Future, the community group reviewing many aspects of life in Fleet, is looking into car park charges and will be coming up with ideas to boost business in the town.

“We’re already looking at pay-on-exit parking with Fleet Future and Fleet Town Council as a way to encourage people to stay in town longer,” said Cllr Evans. “I’m looking forward to Fleet Future’s views on parking charges to see how we can make them work better for the benefit of the high street.

“There must be other ways we can be smarter with cheaper or free parking to improve trade.”