A TRADERS' plea for shopper friendly parking around Wear Valley's main retail centre has been thrown out by council chiefs.

Business people in Bishop Auckland have campaigned for nearly seven years for free short term parking in the heart of the town.

But they learned at a special traders' meeting on Monday night that Wear Valley District Council will charge motorists at least 30p an hour for using central spaces.

The council say its car parking strategy will boost business by freeing up spaces that are currently occupied all day by workers.

And chief executive Iain Phillips said that the quality of shop, and not parking, was the major issue affecting Bishop Auckland.

He said: "The problem of Bishop Auckland has nothing to do with car parking charges. If we are going to improve the commercial prospects of the town we have to look at the quality of retail on offer."

But the comment angered many traders who feel their views have been ignored. Electrical retailer Margaret Ellis said: "A survey of over 340 people around the town showed they will not pay.

"We wanted two free hours and then a charge, which could be monitored in the same way as pay and display and would encourage people to pop into town for a couple of hours.

"It was insulting to suggest that experienced retailers know nothing about what affects our businesses and this town."

Disabled drivers have also called for longer parking hours in the main shopping street, Newgate Street, which they say are too restrictive and stop them from visiting the town.

Anne Cowie, co-ordinator of Wear Valley Disability Access Forum, said: "We've written to Durham County Council at least three times and asked councillors to come and see the problems for themselves but they're just not listening."

The car park near the bus depot in North Bondgate will continue to cost 30p for the first hour, 70p for the second and £1 for up to three.

From July this will be increased to 80p for the second hour and £1.60 for up to three.

Charges for the car park near the bus depot in North Bondgate, and the Newgate Centre multi-storey car park will be staggered.