A CONTROVERSIAL scheme to attract more shoppers to a market town by introducing high street car parking charges has been approved.

North Yorkshire County Council’s Hambleton area committee agreed visitors parking on Northallerton High Street must pay 80p an hour after an initial free 30-minute period.

The proposal to improve traffic flows in the town centre by introducing higher charges on the High Street than in off-street car parks generated a wave of fury, particularly among traders, after it was revealed in October.

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Leading councillors said more people would be able to access shops than they could with the existing two-hour free parking system and a pollution issue emanating from vehicle fumes would be resolved.

The meeting at County Hall heard traders call on the council to postpone or abandon the plan, with some claiming it would seriously damage the local economy.

Nearly 400 people responded to a consultation over the scheme, with just ten supporting the charges.

Opponents of the scheme included Barkers department store, Bettys tea rooms, Grovers toy shop, grocers Lewis and Cooper, Maxwells electricals and farm and garden suppliers Sam Turners, who said the authority had produced insufficient evidence to support the scheme.

They say free parking on the High Street's 250 spaces is among the town's greatest attractions for shoppers.

Shop owner Marcus Grover said instead of listening to the professional opinions of traders who had been in the town for over 400 years between them, the council had relied on flawed and outdated information.

He said: “This proposal makes businesses less sustainable and jobs less secure.

“I am hugely disappointed. But Northallerton is a great High Street and really shoppers want to come for longer than 30 minutes so they will be using the longer stay car parks.”

Hambleton councillor Ken Billings said problems parking in the High Street had already been resolved by the introduction of parking enforcement officers last October.

He said: “We all know the real reason for congestion in the town, it’s the level crossing.

"Businesses believe this will have a devastating effect on their trade, why are you not listening to them, they are the life blood of our town.”

Others urged the council to delay the decision until after the results of a Hambleton District Council report into the local economy, particularly following the closure of Northallerton Prison and the Rural Payments Agency.

Councillors have dismissed claims the scheme is being established to generate money.

Officer Tom Bryant said:” Officers believe there is a strong traffic management case for the proposals and we believe there is no conclusive evidence that parking charges have a negative impact on the town centre economies.”

Charges are due to be introduced this summer.