Plans to hit residents, businesses and visitors with a wave of parking charges will wreck Eastbourne's economy, it was claimed today.

Under the plans, people who live within the central parking zone would have to pay £52 a year for a permit to park outside their homes while businesses would fork out £300.

Critics say the scheme would be another blow to residents who suffered a huge council tax rise earlier this year.

As in Brighton and Hove, people visiting the zone would have to buy vouchers costing 50p per day or £5 for ten vouchers.

The vouchers would be available to hotels within the zone but managers would decide whether to absorb the cost or pass it on to their guests.

Charging could come into force by spring 2005 and would operate Monday to Saturday, from 8am to 6pm, but not on Sundays.

The central parking zone would stretch from Meads in the west to Seaside in the east and it would cost more to park in the town centre than fringe areas of the zone.

Disabled people would park for free and some parking areas would be designated for permit holders while others would be available to visitors.

Under the scheme, enforcement for the whole of Eastbourne would switch from the police to Eastbourne Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.

Opposition Tory leaders on the borough council denounced the plans and said they would be yet another heavy tax on residents.

Eastbourne was this year hit with the fourth-highest council tax rise in England and Wales at an inflation-busting 38 per cent, largely due to the appointment of waste contractor Sita.

Tory opposition leader Graham Marsden said: "It doesn't make sense to add yet another tax on top of an already heavy burden of local taxation.

"Obviously, there is a cost for putting the scheme into place but I believe those costs can be shared out more sensibly."

Businesses warned Eastbourne's vital tourist industry could be decimated.

Andrew Stuart, chairman of the Eastbourne and Wealden branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the charges would be a council-sanctioned stealth tax.

He said: "Our members have experience of similar schemes in other areas that have proved disastrous like in Hastings where charging has had a terrible effect.

"If we kill off Eastbourne's tourist industry, as will happen if this goes ahead, then Eastbourne will be finished make no mistake."

Peter Hawley, chairman of Eastbourne's Hotels Association, said: "We recognise there has to be some changes to the parking management.

"But we are anxious tourists are not overall affected. There are a number of concerns but the important thing is that we get it right."

They say the aim is to make life easier for businesses and to allow residents to park nearer their homes and guests closer to hotels.

John Robbins, the county council's section manager for transport strategy, said: "There is a strong feeling in Eastbourne about the free-for-all in parking. We have just a finite number of spaces.

"Everybody is scrambling for too few spaces, which is frustrating."

A two-week consultation starts from next Tuesday, September 30.

An exhibition will be held at the Congress Theatre in Compton Street and information will be available at the Arndale Centre in Terminus Road.

Council officials will analyse feedback from the consultation and the two authorities will consider all the comments early next year.

Tuesday September 23, 2003