WEYMOUTH and Portland is raking in more than double the national average for parking charges.
New figures calculating the average annual bill per household for parking which include fines, permits and car park charges place the borough in the top 20 costliest areas in England and Wales. The bill faced by residents is more than twice the national average.
The average bill for residents in West Dorset is also above average.
While parking charges are an important source of income for local authorities, prices in Weymouth have long been a bone of contention with residents and businesses demanding a review amid claims it is affecting the high street and putting off visitors.
The borough froze its charges for this year and introduced incentives to attract more usage at car parks including lifting the charges overnight and on Sundays during the winter.
Figures on average bills were compiled following a Freedom of Information request to local authorities by Labour Party researchers.
It shows the borough council made £2.8million from parking last year which includes fines, the cost of permits and on and off-street parking charges. This means the authority is raking in on average £88.29 per household in parking charges making it the 17th costliest area in the country.
West Dorset made £3.6m which is £72.73 per household.
The average bill for a London household is £109.60 and for England and Wales it is £37.49.
The costliest average annual bill is in Westminster, London, at £637.31. Fiona Penny, who runs Sunflowers in Weymouth town centre, said parking charges were ‘astronomical’.
She said: “The council has introduced free parking at certain times which is a start but the day to day charges are still very high. I am finding that people are rushing around a lot more to do their shopping and not spending as much because they have to get back to the car.”
Steve Hayter of Crosby Carpets, who kicked up a storm after a shake-up of business permits last year, said he was not surprised Weymouth was near the top.
He said: “The charges are disgusting, especially along the seafront. They will end up killing Weymouth completely.”
County councillor Andy Cooke, who works in tourism and marketing, said: “I’ve always accepted the council has to charge commercial rates for parking and the data seemed to suggest that usage was growing even when charges were going up.
“But what I understand now is that car park revenue has been dropping over the last few years so the council may have reached a peak as people are put off.”
Retired businessman Ian Brooke described Weymouth prices as ‘extortionate’ and said they were ‘strangling the economy’.
He called for more incentives for people coming into Weymouth to spend money.
John Morse, chairman of the community forum which covers the Park District where residents’ parking has been enforced for several years, said permit charges were originally fixed but had been hiked up by the council.
“A lot of people in this area are on low incomes and are hit hard by these increases,” he said.
Technical services manager at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and West Dorset District Council, Steve Woollard, said: “The borough council has been making strides over the past year to improve parking for both residents and businesses.
“We have frozen parking charges in borough council-run car parks for the past two years as well as freezing resident parking permits this year for the first time in five years.
“A free parking trial in borough council-run car parks on Sundays and overnight has been running since November and will finish on February 28 which has so far been successful.
“It is important to remember that a lot of our parking income comes from holidaymakers and the money made from parking does help to subsidise Council Tax for our residents.
“A comprehensive parking review is currently being carried out which includes looking at parking charges and rates, with the findings expected to be presented in the spring.
“West Dorset District Council parking charges are among the cheapest in the region.
“As well as freezing our short stay parking charges for the past seven years we have also introduced free parking on Sundays and after 6pm.
“The district council is committed to ensuring district council car parks remain attractive and affordable to shoppers and visitors to towns in West Dorset.”