RAISING car parking charges will hit town centre businesses hard and the council must reconsider, shopping centre bosses demand.

Kevin Gwilliam, general manager of The Brunel Centre, issued the stinging rebuke following the council’s decision to begin a consultation to raise car parking charges in the town centre.

Mr Gwilliam claimed that increasing charges by £1 for short-stay car parks and 10p per hour for others will have a negative impact on footfall and, ultimately, sales.

He said it was “especially unwelcome news when we are endeavouring to extended opening hours and build a better evening and night-time economy”.

He added: “We are disappointed that the council have decided to increase car parking prices and that there has been very little consultation on what effect this will have on the businesses in the town centre.

“We believe this move will negatively affect footfall and sales, and we urge Swindon Borough Council to reconsider.”

The new proposals will reverse a seven-year policy of keeping town centre parking charges low to encourage footfall.

At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Coun Jane Milner-Barry, the Labour Group’s shadow lead for town centre regeneration, accused the council of performing a “massive U-turn” and worried about the potential consequences.

She said: “I wonder if cabinet remembers that in 2010, they slashed prices to give the town centre a boost? What evidence is there that footfall in the town centre will not decrease?”

But Coun Oliver Donachie, Conservative cabinet member for economy and skills, claimed that times had changed and a new policy was required.

He said: “In 2010, the needs of businesses were different and the needs of people visiting the area were different.

“I would find it very concerning that seven years later a new strategy was put forward that didn’t reflect the changing needs of the town centre.”

He added: “I have not spoken to anyone who said they would not visit the town centre because it will cost a bit more to park.”

Councillors also agreed to allocate £160,000 to “improve the quality of the car parking experience” by tackling anti-social behaviour which often blights town centre car parks.

This was something Mr Gwilliam praised, saying he “welcomes the news that the town centre car parks will be cleaned up and measures taken to combat anti-social behaviour”.

But despite Mr Gwilliam’s concerns about a decrease in footfall, Di Powell, inSwindon BID chief executive, said she “understood” the decision.

She said: “Our car parks are very often the first impression to visitors and it is vital that any increase, if approved, is reinvested back into car parks to ensure they are clean , welcoming, safe and accessible to all.

“The car park tariff in the town centre still remains competitive and good value for money, compared to our neighbouring towns and cities.”