A residents’ group is asking people if they would be prepared to pay extra on their council tax bills to fund two hours’ free parking in Fleet.

The Community Campaign Hart (CCH) says the radical idea would help draw big name stores to the town.

CCH leader James Radley said the group wants to ask people about the idea of stumping up an extra £12 per year on an average band D home to fund free parking in the Victoria Road and Church Road car parks.

He added the group believes the free parking deal can be done but needs to ‘crunch the numbers further’.

“The £12 per year (£1 per month) increase is a limit we should not exceed,” he added.

“Which days in the week we could make free for that amount of increase is a variable yet to be determined. The increase could possibly be phased in over a number of years.”

But Cllr Radley said the group would not do anything without consulting people first.

“Canvassing in the run-up to the district elections will be a great opportunity to start this process,” he added.

“We will probably be the only people knocking on doors this year who have the courage and imagination, and let’s face it honesty, to be broaching the subject of possibly raising council tax.

“We look forward to some interesting doorstep discussions.”

Cllr Radley said the town has some “very good, much loved quality shops” but that there were also empty shops which stood vacant for long periods, “reminding us how fragile the retail climate really is”.

“People keep asking, please do something to help the retailers who have steadfastly stuck by Fleet, despite the economic pressures, and do something to draw in more quality retail outlets.

“To date, quite frankly, the district council has tinkered at the edges but hasn’t done anything significant.”

He said it is well known in the retail industry that big name stores look to open in towns that offer free parking and while Hart had flirted with the idea and recently introduced a half hour of free parking between 6pm and 6.30pm it wasn’t enough.

“A 30-minute window of free parking after most of the shops close and before the restaurants are fully open is frankly ridiculous, it is an empty gesture,” he said.

“We believe it is time to have an open, honest debate.

“Do we want to support the viability of our existing shops and encourage new retailers into Fleet by attracting more shoppers with two hour free parking and if so are we as a community willing to pay for it?

“When out talking to the electorate in the run-up to the election this is something that our 11 Community Campaign candidates for the area will be sounding out people’s opinion on.

“It’s time to have a meaningful debate about how to regenerate vitality in our town.”