ROCHFORD District Council has given the go-ahead to raise parking charges – despite abstentions by ruling Tory councillors, one of whom dismissed the rise as “suicidal”.

The Conservative council voted for a 25 per cent increase in the hourly rates and charging for Saturday afternoon parking, currently free in town centres.

The 80p per hour fee will rise to £1.

The plan was passed by 14 votes to seven, with 11 abstentions and seven absentees at an extraordinarymeeting on Tuesday.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Downhall and Rawreth, Chris Black, voted against the charges and said he had hoped for more support from those who abstained.

He said: “I respect the people who abstained, but if they had voted against, it would have been thrown out.

“It was good to see we got 11 abstentions. We were very close to winning it. I have been on the council for 29 years and I have never seen a vote like that.”

Cheryl Roe, Conservative district councillor for Rayleigh Central, who also sits on Rayleigh Town Council, was among ten Conservatives who abstained, rather than vote for the plan.

Mrs Roe said: “To have a Saturday afternoon parking charge brought back is suicidal, in my opinion.

“But residents need to know that we are for Rayleigh and part of the town council for that reason.

"I have lived here all my life, nearly 50 years, and I love this town.

“The Conservative group decision was to approve the charges, but I could not agree with that.”

Rayleigh Town Council chairman Ian Ward, who also abstained, said he was disappointed with the result.

He said: “We have complied with the rules. We had a very full debate within our group, but at the end a different approach has been taken.”

Rayleigh’s long-running Wednesday market has been credited with increasing people using the High Street.

The town council is allowed to hold ten Saturdaymarkets a year and is planning Italian, vintage and farmers’ markets, which could be hit by the increase.

Rayleigh Market spokesman Trevor Day said: “I can’t see why they’re changing it, because people just won’t go so they won’t get anything from the charges.

"Everyone will go to Lakeside, where there’s free parking.”

The new charges will be introduced across the district on April 1 and are expected to raise around £1.4 million a year by 2018/19.