RIVAL parties at Worcester City Council clashed last night over plans to increase car parking charges - with claims it will increase congestion refuted.
The former leader of the authority Councillor Simon Geraghty said April's suggested rises will lead to more cars going into residential streets, lose the council income and hit retailers.
But the Labour leadership rejected it during a Guildhall debate, saying there is "no evidence" last January's dramatic cut in charges worked.
It also said in-house surveys show people tend to park at the most convenient location they can find, and do not give much thought to driving further away from where they need to be to save money.
As your Worcester News first revealed in November, the council wants to scrap £1 parking after 7pm, axe the 30-minute rates which are as low as 40p, and increase some four-hour prices from £5 to £6.
Coun Geraghty, speaking during a meeting of the performance, management and budget scrutiny committee, said: "My real concern is that some of these very large increases could drive people into residential streets.
"If we are effectively causing congestion, with people going around looking for free parking spaces, you won't be meeting your strategic goals.
"I'm really struggling to see how this will boost Worcester's economy."
It was rejected by Labour, who said last year's cuts did little to help the city and insisted it is right to "reverse" them.
Councillor Adrian Gregson, the leader, said: "I go back to the time when there was a holistic parking strategy involving park and ride, on-street parking and car parks.
"Over time the city and county councils have failed to provide a coherent strategy and the county council is currently in the process of making that worse by cutting the buses.
"This is the first step to getting back to having that strategy."
Councillor Geoff Williams, deputy leader and the cabinet member for economic prosperity, said the 30 minute tariff did nothing to encourage "dwell time" and promote the shops.
"Some of the charges don't appear to have done what they were intended to do," he said.
"Overall, if you look at our charges I don't think we are driving people away."
Two recent surveys have been done, with the most recent one after Christmas suggesting 78 per cent of people parking up in Worcester are influenced by the location and 80 per cent would not consider parking elsewhere for less.
Changes include Copenhagen Street, Cornmarket and Providence Street – the highest turnover car parks – with four hours set to cost £6 instead of £5.
But at St Martin’s Gate the all-day charge of £3.60 is staying, mainly due to competition from Asda.
Removing the 30 minute rates will mean drivers having to pay for at least an hour.
A vote on the parking rises will be taken in February as part of the 2014/15 budget.