HIGHWAY chiefs are being urged to scrap plans to impose new on-street parking charges in a Hampshire town.

Hampshire County Council has unveiled proposals to alter the charging system in Lymington High Street, where parking is currently free for the first hour.

Under the new scheme motorists will have to pay to park if their visit lasts longer than 30 minutes.

The plan has parked fears that shoppers will go elsewhere, potentially leading to the closure of stores which were already struggling before the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

Lymington councillor Michael White has warned that the charges would effectively turn the high street into a short-stay car park, causing a “disastrous” reduction in visitors.

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Now the influential Lymington Society is urging the authority to think again in the wake of the lockdown and its devastating impact on the retail sector.

The group's deputy chairman, Dr Don Mackenzie, has written to Cllr Rob Humby, the county council's executive member for economy, transport and environment.

His letter cites the "incredibly difficult" time faced by shops and the wider economy and urges the authority to scrap the proposed charges.

It adds: "Even in the previously weakening climate for retail before the virus, the imposition of charges was very likely to cause significant harm to the shops in the town.

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"Now however, the imposition of charges could have a magnified negative effect in this really precarious time for retail confidence.

"As you know, the Chamber of Commerce and the town council are vehemently opposed to this proposal and have urged you to reconsider.

"I hope you will realise that, more than ever, this is the wrong policy at the wrong time and should be scrapped."

The county council is taking over the regulation of on-street parking from New Forest District Council (NFDC) and says it needs to levy charges to cover the cost.

Referring to the impact of coronavirus Dr Mackenzie told the Daily Echo: "The county council has a very difficult situation to deal with in managing the impact on its services and finances.

"But the Society feels that these new charges could be the last straw for shops in the town and has urged Cllr Humby to reconsider.

"The Society understands that some form of parking enforcement will still be needed and urges the county council to consider handing the responsibility back to NFDC."

Cllr Rob Humby, the county council's executive member for economy, transport and environment, said the authority was "reviewing its approach to parking".

He said: "The County Council is prioritising economic recovery as we emerge from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

"We have already taken steps to help people go about key business during the outbreak, such as temporarily suspending parking enforcement action unless unlawful parking was causing a danger, and we are now starting to put in some additional walking and cycling measures across the county to support town centre businesses as they reopen with new social distancing measures in place.

“We are reviewing our approach on parking as travel demand is expected to increase when more shops and businesses open from 15th June.

"We will clearly need to consider the proposed introduction of on-street parking charges in this context, and will be responding to the business community and Town Council who have been in touch with us shortly.”