THE owner of a popular South Marston cafe fears she will have to close up by the end of the month after a new parking system caused a massive drop in sales.

Customers who visit the Spitfire Cafe now have to input their vehicle registration within 10 minutes of arriving or face a £100 fine and this has driven many regulars away.

Owner Lesley Allcorn has gone without wages for the last two months to keep the cafe afloat and must now make the difficult decision of either paying for the next quarter’s rent or shutting up shop for good.

She said: “I’ve owned this cafe since September 2006 and it has survived through the recession and through the Honda closure announcement but this new system has done more damage to my business in three weeks than either of those. People come in shouting at us about it but it wasn’t our idea, it was the management, we’ve just had to deal with it.

“I’ve had to let two part-time staff go and I have to fight to keep the two that are still here because these wages are the only ones they’re earning.

“I love it here but our daily intake has almost halved since the parking system came in and the rent is so high that I can’t justify paying for it if that’s all we’re getting.

“One blue badge holder was fined after being parked there for 11 minutes and he won’t come back again. We used to get builders who came down from Highworth, but not any more. Amazon drivers used to stop by but they’ve stopped coming. People have been giving us bad reviews because of this.

“Sometimes going to the building manager has led to fines being cancelled but it’s a lot of hassle to go through when people are only coming for a sandwich.”

Lesley estimates that she received around £700 a day in sales before the Honda closure announcement, then £500 in the weeks that followed, but now has to struggle on with as little as £275. The cafe needed seven 4kg boxes of sausages a month but now only needs four boxes, and it was empty when the Adver visited.

Smart Parking came into force in April to prevent motorists from other businesses leaving their vehicles outside the building that used to house the old Spitfire factory. But Lesley fears the 10-minute time limit is too strict and mistakes made when they had to write down licence plate details by hand while serving customers has led to many being fined in error.

Customer Natalie Smith provided her registration details to the cafe when she popped in, but received a fine anyway after visiting for just 40 minutes, then had her appeal rejected.

She said: “I think it is disgusting that customers are being penalised for doing no wrong and I am now having to appeal this further.”

The manager of Berkeley House later managed to get her ticket cancelled after contacting Smart Parking on her behalf.

Natalie added: “This is fantastic news. So, if you are genuine and do speak to Berkeley House, then they will help you get this resolved. Fingers crossed this is good news for the cafe."

The manager, who did not wish to be named, claimed that the decision to implement the parking system was not made by him and that the problems Lesley mentioned were just teething issues that have now been resolved with a new input method.

He said: “I have done everything in my power to help the cafe and worked with Smart Parking to cancel fines that were issued in error to keep everyone happy. Now that the new iPad system is now in place, the cafe is working well and should avoid any further issues.”

Lesley added: “I hope we can recover from this but I think it may be too late.”