Farnborough town centre manager Gary Little predicts that it will prove a crippling blow to Aldershot and Farnborough town centres.

Councillors voted on Thursday to bring in a Sunday and bank holiday charge at car parks across the borough on a one-year pilot scheme.

A second proposal of scrapping the popular ‘free after three’ deal at Aldershot’s High Street car park and charging after 6pm has been deferred for consultation in September.

Yet the proposal has devastated Mr Little who has been working hard to increase the number of visitors to Farnborough’s flagging town centre.

He said: “Nobody likes increases in parking charges, but these charges will force our shoppers to go further afield.

“We have 37 vacant units in Farnborough and with the recent changes to the roads leading to the centre, it is a 45-minute drive for people, which is a big problem.

“There are better offers at other town centres, with cheaper parking, and this will be the final nail in the coffin for Farnborough.”

Since Christmas, the visitor trend has been below average and the new charges will upset many retailers.

Mr Little cited Blockbuster Video as a prime example of where traders will suffer, as evenings, weekends and bank holidays are their main trading period.

The new parking charges will effectively increase the price of a video by 15%, he predicted.

Similarly, the new Experience fitness club will suffer as other health clubs across the area offer free parking and discount schemes to members who mainly use the gym at evenings and weekends.

“With the current climate at Farnborough,” he said, “I would ask you to wait until we’re ready for it. The retailers are very concerned.”

His sentiments are echoed by Aldershot Town Centre manager Jenny Rawlings who asked councillors at the meeting to defer their decision until all the traders had been consulted.

She said: “The ‘free after three’ is very popular with both retailers and visitors, but our economy is still very fragile in Aldershot.

“On a good note, there are no vacant premises in the Wellington Centre at the moment.

“The Sunday parking charge would mean that smaller business would have to close on a Sunday if shoppers are deterred.”

The council increased the parking charges at many of its car parks in October last year, causing outrage among shoppers and retailers.

At the time, the council voted to maintain the ‘free after three’ deal and the then free Sunday charging over the next year to decide whether they were worth keeping.

Yet the review on the charges has come just seven months later and failed to engage retailers in the consultation, although councillors pointed out that the increases were meant to go ahead last July.

The Sunday charging has been proposed mainly because it has been noticed that there is more retail activity on the day and that by bringing in a charge, facilities at the car parks could be maintained.

Leader of the Council, Cllr John Marsh said: “Full use of the lifts, public conveniences and CCTV would be available under the charge which would be the equivalent of one hour’s parking during the week.

“A charge at the council car park would need to be introduced under the pilot scheme as well.”

The majority of councillors at the cabinet meeting were in agreement that the new Sunday charging would have little effect on the shopping economy.

Cllr Roland Dibbs said: “You can’t quibble on one hour’s rate for all day parking and I don’t think this will have a major impact on shopping in either Aldershot or Farnborough.

“We should press ahead with this modest increase.”

Cllr Nigel Baines agreed. “Sunday trading has got bigger and bigger and I don’t think there are any major implications for the towns.

“My only concern is that we have to enforce the charges, or there is no point to them.”