A row has erupted after a festive free parking scheme in Bognor Regis was cancelled.
The traditional all-day scrapping of charges on the last four Saturdays before Christmas will not be taking place this year after all.
Arun District Council has ruled out allowing the town’s chamber of commerce to take over the Fitzleet multi-storey car park for the seasonal boost to the town centre.
An Observer website poll this week showed 97 per cent – or 461 voters – believed free parking would help Bognor’s shops at Christmas.
Arun’s move has provoked a furious response from the chamber’s president and chairman, Nick Stuart-Nicolson.
He accused Arun’s councillors from outside Bognor of showing their lack of respect for the town with such decisions.
“Councillors from well outside the area, some of whom have probably never even spent time in Bognor, have developed opinions and deep prejudices against the town.
“In view of this, I believe we have a system which is dangerously flawed as it has a scant regard for the opinions of the local Bognor-based councillors.
“This is not democracy. This is high-handed elitism and is positively draconian,” he said.
Mr Stuart-Nicolson said he believed the approval of the Saturday free parking was a formality after some 15 years of operation, when he was told to write to Arun about it.
But Arun senior councillor Paul Dendle, who represents Arundel and is in charge of the district council’s parking strategy, defended the council’s decision.
He blamed Mr Stuart-Nicolson for announcing the scheme before he had consulted the district council.
Cllr Dendle said: “Had the chamber of commerce contacted us before making its public announcement, we would have explained that both we and Bognor Regis Town Council are committed to making the free two-hour parking trial a success.
“We believe the offer to both traders and shoppers, which covers 365 days, is better than that of just four Saturdays throughout December.
“To have two schemes running alongside each other at the same time – one for a year and one for just four days in a month – would have only led to confusion about who could park where and when a disc might be needed.
“And anybody who does want to park for free on any Saturday in December can do so for up to two hours in Fitzleet or Lyon Street with a disc.
“I call upon the chamber of commerce to work with us and engage on how we can make this scheme work for the best effect for businesses, residents and visitors alike in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.”
The latest argument is a further twist in the bitterly-fought campaign to provide Bognor with two hours’ free parking to match Littlehampton.
The pressure began last September when Bognor Regis Civic Society launched a petition which was backed by thousands of people.
Society deputy chairman Hugh Coster said Arun’s latest decision was a case of ‘mean-minded penny pinching’.
“This is precisely the sort of thing that makes the district council unpopular in Bognor,” he said.