Doncaster Council has been accused of using car parking charges as a cash cow after it was revealed the authority made an annual profit of almost £300,000.
Figures released by the RAC show the council raked in a £296,000 surplus from its car parking operations in 2011-12, even though it has cut prices.
The council has defended its car parking policy, pointing out that charges have been reduced this year.
Market traders say car parking prices are slowly killing trade in the town centre and called for initiatives such as free afternoon parking to attract more shoppers.
President of Doncaster branch of the Market Traders Federation, Mick Maye said: “Car parking has become a cash cow. It has started to become its own empire with people enforcing it and managing it. We are competing with stores like Tesco who have their own free car parking. You tend to see supermarkets out of town with 500 to 600 free car parking spaces. I think 15 years ago Doncaster was a busy town centre – after pedestrianisation it died.
“Doncaster town centre is shrinking. The surpluses are going down each year but £296,000 is still a huge amount. In Northallerton you can get a badge for two hours’ car parking. I would like to see parking free on a rationed basis. Federation vice president Nigel Berry said: “Why can’t they have the car park free after 3pm to extend the market day?
“Shoppers need good short-stay free car parking. If they are spending money on improving car parking it’s a good thing but if it’s a revenue earner people who shop here are being ripped off.”
The Deputy Mayor, Glyn Jones, said: “We appreciate the pressures on both shoppers and traders in our town centres. We are desperately trying to reduce parking charges where possible, we did so by 10 per cent in 2013 and froze charges in 2012.”
Doncaster came 243rd out of more than 300 councils in the survey and there has been a reduction of its surplus reduced from a high of £595,000 in 2009/10 and £470,000 in 2010/11.
Figures released show that in 2011-12, English councils had a total current account surplus of £565 million from their on- and off-street parking operations.
This figure is a £54m increase on the £511m surplus seen in 2010-11.
RAC Foundation director Prof Stephen Glaister, says profits should be pumped into road improvements.
He said: “For many local authorities, parking charges are a nice little earner, especially in the capital.
“The bottom line is that hundreds of millions of pounds are being contributed annually to council coffers through parking charges and the drivers who are paying have a reasonable expectation to see the cash spent on improving the roads.”
At the Doncaster Markets Car Park, where it’s £1.10 for an hour and £1.60 for two hours, opinions were mixed.
Rachel Gain, 30 of Armthorpe, said: I think it is too expensive to park – the further out you go the cheaper it becomes.”
Geoffrey Barker, 74 of Intake, said: “People have got to park. I think the rates are reasonable in Doncaster. You have to make it a certain amount or the car parks would just fill up.”