DISTRICT leaders are being urged to drop parking charges in a bid to stimulate trade and lure shoppers back to a Suffolk village.

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Fears have been raised for the economic future of Wickham Market following the introduction of parking fees and the relocation of the village’s Co-op to a site outside the main square.

It is also claimed that a perceived slump in trade was compounded by the recent closure of hardware retailer Seagers.

District councillor Bryan Hall called on Suffolk Coastal to review its parking policy in the square, which used to be completely free but now has just three short-stay spaces that are free for only 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, the old Co-op has remained empty since a new 9,000ft store opened with free parking a few hundred feet away last September.

Pup landlord John Parnell was uncertain recovery, claiming the charges had “devastated” lunchtime trade at The George. He said: “We used to look out onto a bustling village but now we often don’t see a soul. In the seven years we’ve been here it has never been so bad.

“We’re all aware of the recession but Wickham Market is just dying - and it has happened quickly. It’s is in freefall and I don’t think even free parking can make a difference.”

Suffolk Coastal admitted there had been a dip in parking ticket sales following the opening of the new Co-op, but denied it had significantly affected overall income. A spokesman said: “Suffolk Coastal is freezing its charges for the coming year and has only raised its car parking charges for town centre shopping areas in its district once in six years.

“Car parking charges are necessary to ensure that those limited spaces are not filled by the same cars all day and that there can be a circulation of visitors and shoppers.

“As for the approval of the new Co-op store, the councillors that made that planning decision took account of local views but decided that there were no grounds under national or local planning policies to refuse the application.”

Mr Hall said had seen comparative parking figures which indicated a 30% reduction since September 6. He added: “We know the council is short of funds and will be reluctant to reinstate free parking but we would like to see if it is prepared to help make Wickham Market a more attractive proposition by introducing longer free parking periods.

“The danger is that places like Wickham Market become service centres rather than retail centres.

“The Co-op has been generous, providing almost £6,000 for three local charities, but I have heard nothing recently to suggest a new tenant has been found.”

Joanne Jones, parish clerk, added: “There has been a proven decrease in ticket sales, with people being deterred by the charges. We will be requesting a review and would like Wickham Market to be brought in line with places where there remains free parking.

“We have a very good councillor behind us who will always try to do his best for the village.”

Nick Denny, executive officer for property at the East of England Co-operative Society, said a suitable tenant would continue to be sought for the empty store. He added: “As an important part of the Wickham Market community, we have been talking to the parish council and Wickham Market Partnership, and would consider a community use for the property.”

With several community spaces already operating in and around the village, Mr Hall said he would prefer the site restored to a retail space.

A meeting will be taking place at Wickham Market Primary School, from 7pm on Thursday, to discuss the introduction of a Village Plan outlining how the community considers development over the next few years.

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