DOUBLING the minimum stay at most of Huntingdonshire’s council-run car parks will “hinder not help” the district’s economic development, traders have warned.

Under new proposals from Huntingdonshire District Council, shoppers driving into Huntingdon, St Ives and St Neots could be forced to pay £1.20 for a minimum two-hour stay, rather than 60p for an hour.

HDC says the change is designed to encourage people to visit and shop for longer and will support the viability and vitality of the towns and its plans includes provision for short term parking in Huntingdon and St Neots. Car parks in St Germain Street in Huntingdon and Brook Street, St Neots, would become short stay, with a 30 minute minimum rate.

However, Jane Waters, owner of Time for Health, in Station Road, St Ives, and a member of the St Ives Town Plan Economy Group, said the move, which could come into effect in February 2013, was the opposite of what is needed.

"You need more flexibility in parking, not less," she said. "Supermarkets and garden centres have free parking, as in effect do shoppers on the internet.

"Business rates from the shops provide a huge subsidy to the towns. If the council wants to sustain the level of business rates, it has to see car parking as a key aspect to the success of the district's economic development."

Robert Ellis, a partner at The Smiling Grape Company in St Neots, which has just moved to Priory Chambers, in Priory Lane, said: "It's just another attempt to make it more difficult for traders. It doesn't help because it makes people wonder whether they should come into St Neots or shop more conveniently. This will hinder not help traders."

Condje Selim, owner of The Parsley Pot in Huntingdon High Street, added: "It is a hassle for people to park. Why would people want to come into the town when they can park at supermarkets for free?"

Councillor Nick Guyatt, the council's deputy executive leader, said: "We recognise these are tough economic times for both our town centre retailers and those who visit us and we have tried to structure our proposed changes accordingly."

He stressed the council had worked within the current charging structure to avoid any wholesale changes in charge levels. Parking prices would remain the same, although residents' permit parking would increase by £50 per year for existing permit holders.

Another proposed change would see Mill Common Car Park in Huntingdon return to being long stay. The council says it also wants to reduce restrictions on season tickets by allowing anyone to buy them regardless of where they are from.

It added: "The new car parking arrangements will be publicly consulted upon before any final decisions are made."

Expect details of the consultation at the end of the month.

Parking in Ramsey will remain free.