Shoppers and traders have hit out at price hikes at a council-run car park which they fear will drive business away and turn Mexborough into a ghost town.
The town’s multi-storey car park has been free to use for more than 30 years - but Doncaster Council plans to start charging motorists to use it.
Market traders, shoppers, business owners and a councillor also expressed concern that the move will deter people from visiting and cause more shops to close down.
One trader described it as ‘the final nail in the coffin’.
The move comes weeks after Tesco and Cooplands revealed they were pulling out of the town, plans for another multi-million pound store fell through and stallholders have been embroiled in a dispute with council chiefs over a revamp of the market.
Butcher Steve Ryalls, 55, from Wath, who has been based at Mexborough Indoor Market since 1979, said: “It just seems like one thing after another. I think its the final nail in the coffin.”
Newsagent Kevin Lupton, 34, of Newstyme in the High Street, added: “I think it will put people off. Plus, once Tesco vacates the premises I doubt another supermarket will take on the site if customers are having to pay for parking.”
Wendy Bailey, who runs a textiles market stall and is chairperson of the Mexborough branch of the National Market Traders Federation, is also against parking charges.
She said: “The market is losing money. Any revenue the council raises from charges at the car park should be put back into improving the indoor market.”
Traders said a car park near the fish market used to be free but has since become paid for too.
Gordon Smith, a market trader for 40 years, said: “I think it will kill the trade, and the town is already struggling. They have been hit with cuts so it’s all about making money back.”
A quick poll of motorists using the multi-storey also revealed they are concerned for the future of the town.
David Stone, 37, of Bolton upon Dearne, is an area manager for Heron Foods and uses the car park every week.
He said: “People have gotten used to it being free for so long I can see them stopping using it.”
Retired business owner Margaret Buczek, 64, of Mexborough, added: “I can see people going off the Tesco in Wath instead. They offer free parking.”
Andrew Tierney, 49, and Lorraine Almond, 45, both of Denaby, are also concerned.
Mr Tierney said: “The free parking used to be a big plus for many people so it will have an effect on trade.”
Ms Almond added: “I think the car park will end up empty so I don’t think the council will make their money back on it.”
Mexborough councillor Andy Pickering, of the Mexborough First party, described the charges as “an attempt to soak even more revenue from this hard pressed town.”
The blow comes after Tesco said they are closing their town centre store, with the loss of 55 jobs in April and builder Kier Property axed plans for a 250-job supermarket near the town railway station because it could not find any firm to operate the facility.
In addition, Cooplands bakery has already closed their High Street store after the company fell into financial difficulty.
The multi-storey parking plan was first revealed under former English Democrats mayor Peter Davies’ draft budget proposals and were rubber stamped in February 2013.
Charges are being set at 50p for one hour and £2 all day. It is understood a private company owns the multi-storey and the authority must pay to lease it.
The parking meters have been installed but they are not yet operational. A council spokesman said the charges will come into effect once a £100, 000 refurbishment of the car park is complete. Any money made will be used to pay for the revamp, he added.
Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones said: “Doncaster Council invests over £360,000 every year to provide the market and car park for Mexborough. However, we want to invest more in the town centre to support residents and the local economy. That is why we have already committed to spending a further £600,000 pounds this year to improve the high street, car park and provide a new outdoor market.
“This will deliver a better experience for shoppers and help the town centre. To help maintain these improvements in Mexborough, a small car parking charge starting at 50p an hour, or just £2 for the whole day, will be introduced.”