A BUSINESSMAN is leading calls for plans to introduce car sparking charges in Old Hill and Cradley Heath to be scrapped.

Tony Billingham fears the move by Sandwell Council will destroy hard-up retailers and other businesses.

The council wants to impose charges on motorists to bring the towns in line with the rest of the borough.

It also claims that council tax payers stump up between £300 and £400 a year to maintain every car parking space in Sandwell.

But Mr Billingham, who owns Old Hill entertainments venue The Regis, which has been up for sale for almost two years, said “drastic action” was needed without delay to protect town centres from the impact of out-of-town shopping developments and internet shopping.

“A very simple way for local authorities to encourage local business is to scrap parking charges to shoppers as at out-of-town shopping centres where parking is universally free,” said Mr Billingham.

He said Asda and Dudley Council had gone part way in providing free parking at town centre stores which had helped to improve businesses in Halesowen.

But he added: “Sandwell needs to do something about Cradley Heath and Old Hill instead of introducing new parking charges which will no doubt destroy more business.”

He urged Sandwell and Dudley Council leaders to champion a compromise such as introduced by Pendle Council, Lancashire, where free parking is offered for the first two-and-a-half hours all year round.

Sandwell’s cabinet member for neighbourhood services Cllr Ian Jones blamed Government cuts for forcing the introduction of parking charges because ratepayers could not be expected to subsidise free parking.

He said the decision to introduce parking charges in Old Hill and Cradley Heath had been delayed from last October after claims there were large numbers of people who objected.

Cllr Jones added: "As a result, a lengthy public consultation period was held that was advertised extensively, but despite the earlier claims only a handful of people registered any objections.

"The charges in Old Hill and Cradley Heath are lower than in other authorities and it is, therefore, unlikely that shopkeepers will lose out on trade.

"Also, there is free short-stay parking available in surrounding streets to cater for any passing trade."