ANGRY town councillors in St Neots are spitting feathers after Huntingdonshire District Council decided to put an end to all-day free parking in the town.

ANGRY town councillors in St Neots are spitting feathers after Huntingdonshire District Council decided to put an end to all-day free parking in the town.

Despite more than 2,000 signatures opposing the plans and fierce opposition from town councillors, HDC's cabinet has decided to introduce charges at Riverside Car Park.

From a date the district council has yet to set, all but 38 spaces will attract a charge of between 20p and £1.50, in line with long-stay car parks in Huntingdon and Godmanchester.

The 38 spaces, intended primarily for users of the leisure facilities, will be free for two hours. An excess charge of £50 (£35 if paid within 14 days) will be levied on over-stayers.

Town councillor, Steve van de Kerkhove described the decision as "an absolute disgrace" and said the views of St Neots residents had been "blatantly ignored".

He said the impact on the town would be immediate with shops and businesses suffering during an already difficult economic period.

Cllr van de Kerkhove said: "This is going to be tough on the town. All you have to do is look at all the empty shops in High Street to see that the town is already suffering. We should be trying to increase footfall not drive shoppers away.

"One of the attractions of shopping in St Neots is the free parking, now people will just go elsewhere. This decision shows complete disregard for the people of St Neots. I'm so angry - I'm spitting feathers. This is just not acceptable."

Town mayor, Cllr Gordon Thorpe described the news as "bitterly disappointing" predicting it would have a "devastating impact" on the town's trade.

He said: "HDC has chosen to ignore the people of St Neots. People who visit the town will now be out of pocket and once we lose shoppers we won't get them back."

The park not only serves the town's Riverside Park, but is also used by people working in the town and shoppers.

Town councillor Jennifer Bird predicted that the move could result in retail businesses closing.

John Davies, chairman of St Neots Town Centre Initiative said some of the town's retailers were "unhappy" with the decision.

He said: "It is unfortunate that the economic climate has dictated this decision, as HDC has always been supportive of St Neots businesses. It's especially unfortunate as the decision comes at a time when some businesses are struggling because of the current economic climate."

Adrian Brittain, one of the directors of Brittains Furnishers in St Neots said he could not see "any plus points" to the decision.

He said: "I cannot see how it can possibly help any of the town's retailers or employees. It will simply push people into parking in side streets, clogging up the roads."

But council officers were not convinced. They said the council's existing team of street rangers will be enforcing the new parking regime at the Riverside.

The cabinet also agreed to introduce parking changes at Hinchingbrooke Country Park, although they are plans to make special provision for the Friends of the country park.

Other changes include a reduction in short-stay spaces at Huntingdon's Riverside car park and the introduction of short-stay parking in Ramsey's Mews Close town centre car park. Although public parking in the town will remain free.

The charges are part of HDC's plans to raise extra revenue to address the shortfall in its budget.