THE MINIMUM charge for using car parks run by the Forest Council could rise by 400 per cent – from 50p to £2 – if the proposed budget is approved.

The leader of the Green administration, Cllr Mark Topping, said while he understood concerns about the hike, the move could have the opposite effect and attract people into the towns.

But the proposal was branded “absolute madness” by former council leader Cllr Tim Gwilliam (Progressive Independents, Berry Hill).

The issue was raised by the Liberal Democrat councillor for Dymock, Cllr Gillian Kilmurray at last week’s meeting of the scrutiuny and overview committee.

She said the flat rate rise would have a disproportionate effect on smaller towns such as Newent.

Cllr Topping, who represents Lydney West and Aylburton, said: “The headline figure up to two hours is £2.

“It is a startling figure and it is a lot to increase it by but that is what happens when you take a very small number and increase it by not very much so 50p to £2 comes out like that.”

He said the car parks were losing £15,000 a year but the increase could bring in around £200,000 annually.

He said: “I do understand businesses’ who fear you are going to deter people from coming to our towns.

“I see this more as an opportunity.

“When you come to a car park it says a lot about that town. If you get there and you find the machine is broken, it’s dirty, the signs are broken, its overgrown with weeds, there’s litter everywhere, the toilets are closed and vandalised, that is the last thing you want, its the last thing we want as an administration, as a council.

“A sober judgement, leads us to think this will produce about £200,000 a year which is a sizeable amount of money at a time when the council is facing quite serious financial challenges.

“It will enable us to enhance our car parks and thereby enhance our town centres.

“I can understand concerns it might put people off but it could be the opposite and it brings us in line with our neighbours.

“Its not unreasonable to have charges of that magnitude.”

He added that 30-minutes free parking and permits for regular users would reduce the impact on town centres.

He said the extra income from the increase could fund facilities such as toilets, bike racks and notice boards “which widen the benefit so there is a wider community benefit than just a box to park your car in for next to nothing.”

Cllr Topping said the increase could also make people question whether they could walk, take a bike or catch a bus.

“Reducing car use is not a bad idea.

“There are other options, which not everyone will be able to take, but there is a slight nudge in the direction of ‘is this car absolutely necessary?’”

Cllr Gwilliam praised the leader’s honesty.

He said: “Well done you’ve been honest and what you’ve been honest about is this is a move that is anti-car.”

The budget will now be considered by the Green-run Cabinet which will make recommendations to the full council.

Final decisions on all the proposals in the Budget will be made by the full council at its meeting in February.