BUSINESS leaders have hit out at a council for proposing “crippling” plans to increase parking charges.

Clare Crouch, president of Lewes Chamber of Commerce, said she was “very concerned” about the planned rise proposed by East Sussex County Council.

She said: “Our members have told us the current parking charges are already detrimental to the footfall levels in the town.

“Businesses are already struggling with the high rents and rates in the town. Perhaps the county council should be looking at ways to support and promote the local business community in a more positive manner.”

Parking varies throughout Lewes but in the High Street it currently costs 50p for every 15 minutes.

If the new plan is approved, charges could increase by anything from 20p to £1.90 per hour.

The council said higher fees would encourage visitors to take public transport instead of driving.

The proposal also plans to link parking charge to a car’s CO2 emissions, meaning cleaner cars will pay less.

But county councillor Ruth O’Keeffe, who represents Lewes, said the increase would hurt poorer residents and town centre businesses.

She said: “I can see how encouraging people to have low-emission cars is a good thing by cutting their parking fees. But it seems to me that the people with newer, low-emission cars will have more money than those with older ones.

“I understand it’s encouraging people to take public transport instead.

“But I do have residents who have been in touch saying they want to take public transport but it’s too expensive.”

Independent Cllr O’Keeffe, said one Lewes resident found it would take them an hour by train to get to work while driving would only take 20 minutes. She said lowering parking charges made more sense for the town.

She said: “You could say increasing parking charges would put people off from getting a car.

“But a lot of people need to drive and will keep making those essential journeys because they need to.

“Instead they’ll stop doing things like shopping in the town centre.”

A spokeswoman for East Sussex County Council said: “Increasing parking charges will help to manage the growing demand for parking.

“Parking charges in East Sussex have not increased significantly for more than a decade.”

A consultation will run until August 11. Have you say at