ANGRY residents and traders protested against the increase in parking charges saying they will turn their high streets into “ghost towns”.

More than 30 people turned out in Rayleigh High Street to vent their anger at Rochford Council, which last week rubber stamped a 25 per cent rise in its car park charges, and scrapped free parking on Saturday afternoons.

Councillors from parish, district and county level joined members of Rayleigh Chamber of Trade, Rayleigh and Hullbridge Action Groups, Essex Federation of Small Businesses, and traders.

Carl Watson, chairman of Rayleigh Chamber of Trade, who runs Squires coffee shop in High Street, Rayleigh, said: “This could potentially make Rayleigh a ghost town on Saturday afternoons.

“Rochford Council is involved with a shop local campaign, there is a town team trying to promote and regenerate towns and bring people in, and it has the nerve to do this.”

“I was really pleased with the amount of people who turned out to protest.”

Motorists will have to pay an extra 20 pence an hour to park their cars from April 1, when the price goes up from 80 pence to £1.

The current free parking from 1pm on a Saturday will also be abolished as the council looks to increase revenue as part of their four-year financial strategy that was approved last Tuesday.

Feathering Your Nest shop assistant Grace Everitt said: “People come to us from as far as Romford.

“If they see the car park prices go up, added to the increase in fuel prices, they will go somewhere else.

“We worry about other shops too. We don’t want any more to close, but this will have a knock-on effect.”

Lib Dem Rochford councillor for Downhall and Rawreth, Chris Black, will raise a “compromise motion” at the next full council meeting on February 18, calling for the new Saturday afternoon charges to scrapped.

Angelina Marriott, chairman of Hullbridge Parish Council, said: “For residents of Hullbridge, Rayleigh is their closest place to shop. If someone is on a tight weekly budget, paying extra for parking can make all the difference.”