Controversial parking charge hikes branded the “final nail in the coffin” for struggling traders are set to be imposed despite a huge public backlash.
Canterbury City Council wants to increase fees to as much as £3.70 an hour at premium sites across the district.
Free parking concessions will also be scrapped in Herne Bay and Whitstable, with the latter set to become one of the most expensive places to park on the UK coast.
There had been hope the swell of opposition that emerged during a public consultation would see councillors go back to the drawing board, but little change has been made to the proposals.
It has left businesses fearing the impact the fee increases could have on footfall as they continue to fight their way through the cost-of-living crisis.
Nejmi Hassan runs Makcari’s cafe and ice cream parlour across two sites on Herne Bay seafront, where hourly rates will rise by as much as £1.20.
“I’m fuming - I might as well just shut my shop,” he said, upon learning the hundreds of objections have so far failed to convince councillors to rethink the plans.
“There’s zero consideration from the council for the businesses and the people here. This has pushed me to the point of giving up.
“In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, a day at the beach should be an affordable way to entertain your children with a picnic, and now you can’t even do that - it's disgusting.
“In the 25 years I’ve been trading in Herne Bay this is the worst piece of news I’ve ever received. For a lot of businesses here this will be the final nail in the coffin.”
The divisive parking proposals were first announced by the council in October in a bid to generate more than £1 million extra a year.
They will see car parks across the district divided into ‘bands’, with the most popular sites attracting the highest charges.
Previously the split tariffs only applied in Canterbury, but Herne Bay and Whitstable will be brought into the scheme.
The number of car parks in Band One - the priciest - would increase from two to seven, with the council proposing an hourly rate of £3.70 for them all.
While this represents just a 20p hike at the existing premium sites in Canterbury, motorists in Whitstable will be forking out as much as £2.10 more an hour.
At the town’s biggest car park, Gorrell Tank, and nearby Keams Yard, the hourly rate is currently £3.10 an hour between April and September and £1.60 the rest of the year.
But the council wants to ditch seasonal tariffs, which are seen as a tourist tax on summer visitors, leaving residents facing an all-year-round rate of £3.70.
It would mean someone paying £8 for a five-hour stay in the town today instead having to fork out £18.50.
To further hit drivers in the pocket, CCC is also proposing to end free midweek parking between 8.30am and 10am in six Whitstable car parks, and from 6pm to 9pm in Herne Bay’s biggest car park, William Street.
The results of the public consultation were debated last month by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, which chose only to recommend minor changes.
Among them was shifting two Whitstable car parks - Oyster and Harbour - from Band One to Band Two, which has an hourly rate of £2.70.
But Dawn Hackett, who has run the Cheese Box Company in Whitstable for 16 years, says the amendments do not go far enough.
“They don’t seem to take any notice of public opinion and I’m just gutted,” she said.
“It’s just another example of the council’s lack of understanding.
“There’ll be fewer and fewer people coming to Whitstable, except for during the summer, where they’ll just come for an ice cream for a couple of hours and then go.
“People are so disillusioned with local councils, and to watch them do something like this and then just ignore us when they ask for our opinion, it’s depressing.”
The draft budget does propose a 10% discount on parking charges for Canterbury district residents, but all Band One car parks are excluded from the scheme.
The offer would also only apply to the remaining sites with ANPR technology - to allow for online administration - leaving just 10 of the district’s 42 car parks eligible.
Only one of those is in Whitstable, and two in Herne Bay.
Conservative councillor Dan Watkins has been a vocal critic of the plans since they were first unveiled as part of CCC’s new draft budget.
“Hikes of this scale will deter tourists from visiting Whitstable and Herne Bay, hitting our small businesses when they can least afford it,” he said.
The Greenhill representative launched a petition against the proposals that has gathered more than 1,000 signatures.
“We will present the petition to full council later this month and hope the Labour/Liberal council listen to the huge strength of feeling and drop the increases,” he said.
The proposals - and amendments - are due to be debated tonight by the council’s cabinet committee, which will make a final recommendation ahead of a vote by all councillors on Thursday, February 22.
The council’s cabinet member for parking, Cllr Alex Ricketts (Lib Dem), said: "Though some prices may rise, which is unavoidable in the current financial climate, this approach spreads the burden more fairly, with the banding of car parks and the residents' rate meaning it will still be possible to park near the district’s main commercial centres at a price not much different, and in some cases slightly lower, than at present.
"In Whitstable, Gladstone Road, Shaftesbury Road and Victoria Street, all near to the shops, will be among the cheaper car parks, as will William Street in Herne Bay.
"Many of the car parks in the centre of Canterbury will also remain near or below the current rate, with residents able to park all day at the park and rides for £3.20.
“Furthermore, we have restored the three-hour free period for blue badge holders.
"These changes represent part of a wider transport strategy to encourage a change in behaviour across the district, reduce pollution and congestion, and boost park and ride use.
“This marks a departure from the piecemeal approach of previous administrations, which led to a confusing structure and legacy issues contradicting environmental policies and unfairly targeting some residents.
"We continue to listen to residents and have made changes to the original proposals in some instances, but it is not possible to adopt every suggestion."