RESIDENTS across the county have reacted with fury to news that Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) will increase parking charges in the vast majority of its car parks from today (Wednesday).

The first two hours’ parking in MCC pay-and-displays will now cost £1.50, a rise of 40p.

The council is also introducing Sunday parking charges across many of the car parks where, until this week, tickets were only required Monday-Saturday.

Charges will also be introduced in several car parks which used to be free.

MCC said previously that the new charges were agreed in last year's budget and were currently being reviewed.

But shoppers and traders alike have condemned the price hikes, arguing the council’s decision will discourage town-centre shopping and further damage beleaguered high-street shops which have struggled in recent years to stay afloat, amid rising business rates and competition from both out-of-town shopping centres and the rise of online shopping.

Kate Morgan, who runs La Bonita Boutique in Chepstow, said she felt yearly increases in car parking charges were “a major factor” in contributing to the number of empty shops in the town.

“I think it is so important for people to shop locally and encourage local businesses and a thriving high street,” she said. “The car parking charges in Chepstow continue to increase every year and it’s not encouraging people to go into town and shop.”

Several other traders from Chepstow and Abergavenny who contacted the Free Press also forecasted the new charges would cause a drop in trade.

Shoppers too said the price hikes would make them less likely to use council car parks and perhaps decide to shop elsewhere, rather than in their home towns.

Many in Chepstow said they would be tempted to visit Cribbs Causeway shopping centre, 12 miles away in northern Bristol, rather than pay the £1.50 MCC charge.

And in Abergavenny, many people cited Cwmbran as a more attractive shopping destination, 15 miles away.

Parking in both those places is free.

The Free Press received hundreds of responses from people living in Abergavenny and Chepstow who opposed the higher parking charges. Some readers called MCC's decision "immature", "greedy", and "ridiculous".

The new parking charges will also affect several car parks in Monmouth, including the introduction of all-day charges at two sites which previously had free parking.

Some shoppers said the new charges would unfairly target people who wanted to make a quick visit to one or two shops in town. Several suggested a better system, to encourage people to visit their local high street shops, would be to make the first hour of parking free and then charge for longer stays.

One reader from Chepstow suggested the prohibitive costs of short-stay parking might encourage more people to park illegally in the High Street – potentially worsening traffic flow in a town already famous for its congestion.

Charges in Chepstow Station car park would discourage people from taking the train, several people said, which was unacceptable at a time when environmental concerns were a high priority.

And readers in Abergavenny said more people would be tempted to park in residential streets, taking up permit spaces and making it more difficult for residents to park outside their homes.

County councillor Armand Watts criticised MCC for a lack of consultation on the new charges, and called on the authority “to have a meaningful conversation regarding the viability of parking charges and overall economic impact it has on our towns”.

In response to residents' concerns, an MCC spokeswoman said: “The car parking charge increases that are being implemented from January 8th were agreed as part of the budget set for 2019/20. The tariff changes have taken some time to be implemented.

"We are currently reviewing our car parking pricing strategy. We are conscious of the potential impact upon town centre footfall and this will be considered as part of the review.

"Car park income continues to be an issue and the portfolio is overspending by £413,000. This increase will only go a small way to tackling this issue.”