CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce Saturday afternoon parking charges across the Rochford district could be scrapped next week as councillors have finally been given a free vote on the issue.

The move to start charging after 1pm in council-run car parks prompted outrage from residents and traders who feared it would lead to the closure of small businesses.

The proposal was voted through by members of Rochford District Council in January after a Conservative Party whip was invoked. It then led to a party split, with nine Conservative councillors tabling a motion for the matter to be reconsidered and other members resigning the Tory whip.

Now, all members will get the chance to vote freelyon the issue at a full council meeting on Tuesday.

Carl Watson, president of the Rayleigh Chamber of Trade, said: “Hopefully the councillors will take on board the public and chamber’s views, and those of their own councillors.

“Hopefully, they will take a more sensible approach and understand the issues we were up in arms about previously.”

The council has received a 500- strong petition against the Saturday afternoon charges.

The agenda for Tuesday’s extraordinary council meeting states members will “determine whether to introduce car parking charges on Saturday afternoons”.

Rochford councillor responsible for parking, Mike Steptoe, said: “The vote will be free.

“There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Saturday charges and businesses have made their point clear.”

Toby Mountain, independent Conservative councillor for the Sweyne Park ward, resigned the Tory whip in the aftermath of the controversy.

He said: “I think this situation has been badly managed, but hopefully it will finally be resolved when it comes before full council.”

The agenda for tomorrow's meeting also recommends councillors to increase the hourly parking charge from 80p to £1, and to allow blue badge holders an hour’s grace on their paid-for parking.