A council is going back to the drawing board on plans to scrap two hours free parking following an angry response from residents.
Bosses at Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) were considering introducing pay-and-display machines in certain streets in Folkestone, Sandgate, Hythe and New Romney.
But the proposal, which was due to come into force in April, sparked fury among residents who feared the move would be the death of their high street.
FHDC's cabinet was set to vote on the proposals last night, but council leader Cllr Jim Martin (Green) announced that it had been withdrawn from the agenda.
The initial plans would have seen charges of up to £2 an hour in six streets in Folkestone, while for Hythe High Street, Sandgate High Street and New Romney High Street, the charge would be £1.80.
The council said the plan could improve traffic flow, encourage drivers to be more compliant with the rules, raise vital funds and encourage more sustainable modes of transport.
However, at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday, cabinet member for transport, Cllr Polly Blakemore (Green), said the authority had altered the plans.
Speaking before the proposal was withdrawn from the cabinet agenda, Cllr Blackemore said instead of fully removing the free parking period in the designated streets, there would be a half-hour free period, and in the six Folkestone streets the hourly fee would be £1.80 instead of £2.
The Folkestone roads earmarked for fees were Bouverie Square, Bouverie Road West, Christ Church Road, Cheriton Place, Manor Road and Sandgate Road.
A council officer explained: “Even if you have 30 minutes free parking you will need to go to the pay-and-display machine and obtain a ticket or book a session via RingGo.
“The issue we currently have is people park up for two hours and then go to another location where they can find another parking space for two hours, so that will go.
“If you book a session for 30 minutes that will read for the day so you cannot then go out and book another ticket for another 30 minutes."
Cllr Blakemore added: “These proposals will increase parking enforcement efficiency, encourage driver compliance through fair and consistent enforcement, improve traffic flow and reduce parking congestion, encourage greater use of off-street parking, and help plug the council’s budget deficit.”
However, members weren’t all enthused by the plans.
“It’s a big dilemma, as a Green I would like to see people using more public transport or cycling to town,” said mayor of Hythe Cllr Anita Jones (Green).
“But we know that public transport is often unreliable, especially more recently, and this plan isn’t actually a plan to stop people driving to the high street, it's just to charge them more for the convenience of being there.”
She stressed she can only speak from Hythe’s perspective, but was sure traders in other towns “would be upset too”.
“It is really tough times particularly for small independent traders and if we are not supporting them we won’t have a high street at the end of this,” she added.
Cllr Alan Martin (Con), who represents Walland and Denge Marsh, said he thought the plan would “cause a huge stink”.
“I think businesses will be very concerned and residents will be very frustrated,” he said.
“The proposal to have the 30 minutes free parking I think will mean you’ll raise virtually nothing from this.
“New Romney serves a rural community. If you live in Ivychurch you don’t have an alternative way of getting into New Romney, you can’t get a bus but you won’t be able to get back again because there’s only one bus a day.
“There’s no viable cycle path or easy way that you can walk in from these rural communities.
“Your only real reliable way to get into New Romney is to drive and then they obviously need to park their car.
“If you’re going to force those people to pay I think they're going to question whether they come into the high street at all.”
However a council officer stressed: “Across districts in Kent they already charge for parking on street, in Dover they do charge £1.80 an hour as well and the same in Ashford and Canterbury.
“Most districts do charge, this is something that should have been considered a while ago.
“We have a budget deficit, on-street parking gives us a net cost of about £440,000 for the past five years.”
It was expected the changes would make from £173,000 to £288,000 per year depending on usage.
But in a statement released this morning, Cllr Blakemore confirmed the plans have been put on hold.
“We listened to initial feedback and will continue to listen as we develop our proposals regarding parking," she said.