PLANS to raise car parking costs across the Cirencester area have been met with fierce opposition.

A petition has been launched to halt Cotswold District Council's decision to scrap free parking on Sundays and to increase parking charges and permit costs as part of it latest budget which was agreed last week.

CDC said the 'difficult' decision was needed to ensure the authority was prepared for future budget cuts.

The move means for example that at the Brewery, Forum, Abbey, Old Station, Waterloo and Sheep Street car parks, the current tariffs of £1.70 for one hour and £3 for two hours parking are due to increase to £2 and £3.50 respectively.

In addition, the usual three hours parking charge of £3.90 in these areas will increase to £4.60.

Parking costs at Cirencester Leisure Centre - which is owned by CDC - will also mirror these rises.

Prices for parking permits in the Abbey Grounds, Old Station, Sheep Street and Waterloo are also due to rise as are fees in towns such as Tetbury, Stow, Bourton and Moreton.

An annual Abbey Grounds 10 hour permit for example is due to rise by £160 from £950 to £1,110.

These changes are due to come into effect at the start of financial year on Monday, April 1.

But the announcement has unleashed a backlash from outraged drivers and sparked fears that Cirencester could become a ghost town.

Cirencester resident Maisie England has set up a petition on to halt the plans which has rallied considerable support from the community and had nearly 500 signatures by the time the Standard went to print.

Concerns were raised that footfall in the town centre could decrease which would have a negative impact on businesses and amenities such as the church.

Ms England said: "I decided as a resident of Cirencester that it would be better to take proactive action rather than to just complain about the charges on Facebook.

"Everyone's finances are being hit but it’s worrying if Cirencester turns into a ghost town with no local suitable amenities.

"I worry about the impact increasing parking charges could have on our businesses and amenities such as the church.

"We use the church every Sunday and take advantage of the free parking.

"Others use it too for attending evensong at the church on Sunday evenings.

"It just deters people from using local businesses and amenities when parking charges are high."

Deputy leader and cabinet member for finance at CDC Mike Evemy said that the move was among several 'difficult decisions' which will help the council avoid bankruptcy and ensure it can continue to fund essential services.

He pointed out that fees were frozen last year.

He said: “We can appreciate residents’ concerns around car park charges and last year we were able to freeze car parking charges to help residents and visitors with the cost of living.

"However, we can’t afford to continue that freeze in the face of the financial challenge we are seeing across local government, and indeed here in the Cotswolds.

“We have lost 50 per cent of our funding in the past decade and we are having to prepare for the potential to lose another 25 per cent of our funding in the coming years.

"By making difficult decisions in this year’s budget, it will help us fund local services and avoid making much tougher decisions in future.

"We want to protect local services and avoid facing the harsh changes we have seen at councils that have lost control of their finances and faced bankruptcy.”