DRIVERS visiting Totton town centre could soon be charged to use the only two council-owned shoppers' car parks that are still free.

The civic centre and Westfield Road parking facilities were exempt when charges were imposed elsewhere in the New Forest almost two decades ago.

But a long-standing agreement between New Forest District Council (NFDC) and the town council has broken down.

Motorists already have to pay to use other council-owned car parks in the town centre.

New Forest Post:

Now the charging regime could be extended to include the civic centre and Westfield Road sites under plans drawn up by NFDC.

The move has sparked fears for the future of shops and other businesses who are struggling to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A district council report says: "For the last 18 years Totton Town Council has paid the district council an annual sum to keep the NFDC-owned car parks free.

"This amount covered the business rates on these two car parks but not any of the other costs associated with providing public car parking."

The report says some of the revenue raised by other car parks is having to be used to fund the upkeep and maintenance of the two free ones in Totton.

It adds: "Totton and Eling Town Council have stated their intention to withdraw from this annual payment.

"Therefore it was considered right and proper to address this inequality and ensure all the town centre car parks in Totton fit into the charging regime in force throughout the district."

New Forest Post:

But critics of the proposed new charges are worried about the potential impact on retailers.

Cllr David Harrison said: "I have been happy to support the town council paying an annual sum to the district council to keep town centre car parks free of charge.

"However, it looks like this arrangement is breaking down with Conservative councillors on both authorities failing to reach an agreement.

"The biggest losers will be local retailers who haven't even been asked about the impact new charges will have on their businesses."

Plans to introduce charges are outlined in a report that has been signed off by Cllr Edward Heron, the district council's cabinet member for planning and infrastructure.

The report says NFDC has been subsidising the two car parks, adding: "This arrangement is not available to other towns or parishes.”