People in five Norfolk towns facing the introduction of parking fees have hit out at the proposals.

Breckland Council has revealed that it is considering car parking charges across five of its towns after budget pressures were forcing it to find alternative measures to pay the current bill for upkeep of the car parks.

Concerns have been raised that the roll out of charges would impact businesses in the town centres of Dereham, Attleborough, Swaffham, Thetford and Watton.

For Jennie Ward, the owner of Tall Orders Coffee Shop & Catering in Dereham Market Place, the proposal is a disappointing one. "As more and more shops close, the council should be thinking of ideas to bring people in, not turn them away. 

Tall Orders Catering is located only a few yards from the Cherry Tree car park, where charges are expected to be enforced.Tall Orders Coffee Shop & Catering is located only a few yards from the Cherry Tree car park, where charges are expected to be enforced. (Image: Google Maps)
"A free car park does encourage people to come to town and I worry this will mean people will go to Norwich given the choice.

"This could easily be the end of more businesses in the town who've had a very tough few years.

Ms Ward is also concerned that the decision will negatively impact her staff who use the Cherry Tree car park while at work.

"It is already difficult hiring and keeping staff as a small business and one of the perks of working in a small town is the free parking," she said.

Lee Lawrence, the owner of Shabbytatt in Swaffham, questioned the need to change something that already works. 

"Historically, Swaffham didn't have any parking charges, which didn't work because it meant that there were limited spaces for customers.

"Then a free two-hour limit was introduced, and that worked well because customers could come into the town, spend some time here, and be aware that they would need to leave, which then gave space to new customers. 

"I'm not overly keen on an hourly charge. I think it will restrict people."

Mr Lawrence highlighted that Swaffham is often used as a stop-off for those travelling to King's Lynn or Norwich, and worries that implementing parking charges will keep visitors away.

One person, who commented on the issue in Dereham Community Notice Board Facebook group, said: "This will kill trade in Dereham, as well as add pressure to people's pockets."

However some people have welcomed the council's decision.

Sarah Horan, owner of Boutique at No 10, which operates in Attleborough and Swaffham,  believes that the tariffs are "not astronomical".  

Ms Horan does not feel that the charges would be astronomical.Ms Horan does not feel that the charges would be "astronomical". (Image: Google Maps)
She said: "It's a good idea, as long as they don't restrict the number of hours you can spend in a car park.

"It's basically to raise enough funds to maintain the car parks, and if you go to other towns, you'll find the charges are a lot higher than what they're proposing," she said.

Dereham councillor and leader of Breckland's official opposition group, Harry Clarke, also expressed opposition on behalf of his group's 12 councillors. 

Cllr Harry Clarke said that the charges couldn't come at a worse time.Cllr Harry Clarke said that the charges couldn't come at a worse time. (Image: Denise Bradley)
He said: "Residents are already badly suffering from a cost-of-living crisis and further expense couldn't come at a worse time. 

"The market towns are already struggling, particularly in the town centres with empty shops, and this proposal will only exacerbate poor footfall where it is most needed."

Mr Clarke also said that once the charges were put in place, it would become "an easy target" for the council to continue to increase charges. 

"There is no mention of any increased budget for traffic wardens, or any impact assessment of Controlled Parking Zones in surrounding streets and the impact on residents. 

"The proposals seem to take no account of the Town Delivery plans and the vibrancy or otherwise of our market towns.

"We've been promised a consultation. Let's hope this is full and fair. We will campaign against these measures, as we have in the past when equally unfair proposals were raised," he said.

The council's current bill to maintain the car parks amounts to £450,000 a year.

It plans to have one car park in each market town offering the first hour’s parking for free, with tariffs between 50p and £1 for the first chargeable hour across the district. 

Fees would also vary from town to town. 

A decision on bringing in charges will be made by Breckland's cabinet on Monday.