THE LONG-RUNNING issue of parking charges proved a contentious issue at yesterday’s meeting of Cotswold District Council.

Residents packed the councils’ Cirencester headquarters on Tuesday to grill cabinet member for the environment Cllr David Fowles (Con, Hampton), who refuted claims that parking charges are being used as a “stealth tax” on drivers.

Dismissing accusations that the council had used Cirencester as a “cash cow”, Cllr Fowles explained that revenue from parking is pumped back into “essential services” such as public toilets, street cleaning and bins.

“We make a charge that we think is reasonable for the service we provide,” he said.

Angry residents and Liberal Democrat councillors staged a protest outside the Trinity Road offices during the meeting, with placards bearing slogans such as "End 24/7 Parking Charges in the Brewery" and "These Parking are Fowl" - complete with a picture of Cllr Fowles.

Resident Liz Hughes said she was often forced to pay parking charges at the Brewery Car Park while attending evening classes at the New Brewery Arts centre and accused Cllr Fowles of “punishing Cirencester”.

“I’ve not met one single person who agrees with these charges,” she said. “Surely you should be encouraging venues that are already struggling?”

Cllr Fowles replied he believed the 24-hour charging scheme had been a success and he had no plans to abolish it.

When asked by Cirencester resident Chris Arnold if he would consider dropping charges to 50p an hour, Cllr Fowles said that this would cost the council £1.6m a year and a council tax increase of 30 per cent would be required to make up the shortfall.

When Mr Arnold asked him if this proved the council was using parking charges to subsidise council tax, he again denied the claims.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Lee Searles (Park) said he was concerned, despite a significant amount of money being generated by parking charges, there had been no investment in improving the car parks in Cirencester in recent years.

“If you take a walk around any of them you can see potholes filled with water,” he said. “It’s a very poor service.”

Cllr Fowles replied he was aware some of the car parks needed work and that this would be done in the near future.

Accusing the Tory administration of “bleeding the Cotswolds dry with its shameful car parking policy”, Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley) presented proposals to remove the 24-hour charges at Cirencester’s Brewery Car Park. He also suggested a new pricing policy which would see users pay 70p for an hour, £1.50 for an hour and £2.20 for two.

“This is about getting people into our towns and villages,” he said. “That is the key.”

However, council leader Cllr Lynden Stowe (Con, Campden-Vale) accused the Liberal Democrats of “taking an enormous risk with this council’s finances” and the suggestions were voted down by members.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Fowles told the Standard the suggested new pricing policy would cost £850,000 to implement and require a 15 per cent increase in council tax, calling it a “complete fantasy”.