Business leaders today launched a campaign against controversial plans to charge residents, visitors and companies to park in Eastbourne.

Proposals to introduce a wave of charges opponents fear will cripple the resort's economy have been publicly aired for the first time by council officials.

Tens of thousands of homes were today receiving details of how the proposals will affect them.

They will learn how, where and when they can register their opposition or support for the plans put forward by Eastbourne Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.

Residents who live within the central parking zone will have to pay £52 a year for a permit to park outside their homes.

The cost to businesses will be £300.

People visiting the zone will have to buy vouchers costing 50p a day from one or two parking shops, or pay £5 for ten vouchers.

Protesters are warning that unless they vigorously oppose the plans, Eastbourne's economy will suffer irreversible damage.

They fear the town's tourism industry, the main plank of its economy, will wilt as visitors go elsewhere.

Andrew Stuart, chairman of the Eastbourne and Wealden branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Now is the time to protest.

"More and more people are learning what will happen and they are angry and worried. People are realising they will have to pay to park outside their homes.

What the councils have to realise is that Eastbourne lives for tourism. Without tourism, Eastbourne will simply close down.

"The county council says these plans are a step forward but you only need to look at Hastings, where such a scheme runs, to see how extremely unpopular it is.

"Our members there say business has gone down markedly. People need to realise how serious these plans are for Eastbourne, and quickly."

Mr Stuart voiced fears for Eastbourne's premier tourist event, Airbourne, which draws more than half-a-million people into the resort over four days each summer. He said: "Many people will be unwilling to pay to park and visitor numbers will go down."

Vouchers will be available to hotels within the zone but managers will have to decide whether to absorb the cost or pass it on to guests.

Charging could come into force by spring 2005 and will operate Monday to Saturday from 8am to 6pm. The central parking zone will stretch from Meads in the west to Seaside in the east and it will cost more to park nearer the town centre than fringe areas.

Disabled people will park free and some parking areas will be designated for permit holders.

The proposals have been put forward to make life easier for businesses, to allow residents to park nearer their homes and guests closer to their hotels.

But issues such as personal safety for hotel staff working unsocial hours are already emerging.

Mr Stuart said: "If hotel staff working until 1am after a function have to walk some distance to their cars, they are going to be at risk.

"There are all types of side issues to this ludicrous scheme and as people get to find out more about it all, then there will be outright anger."