Wycombe District Council (WDC) has been urged to trial one hour of free parking at a major town centre car park in a bid to save the “dying high street”.

The calls come after WDC announced it would be increasing parking charges in all of its car parks for the first time in 10 years – despite “considerable concern” over the impact it could have on retailers.

During a meeting of the full council on February 21, councillor Alan Hill suggested introducing one hour of free parking once a week at the Wycombe Swan car park “to try and encourage people back into the town”.

However, cabinet member for environment, Julia Adey, disagreed with claims that the high street is “dying” – stating the Eden Centre has actually seen an increase in footfall over the past year.

She added that the Swan car park “is at capacity at weekends” and there is “no evidence” that removing parking charges will encourage more people to visit the town centre.

Cllr Adey said: “While it is true that there are some vacant retail units in High Wycombe the council has taken and will continue taking a proactive role in supporting the town centre so that it can continue to thrive.

“In response to your suggestion, the Swan car park is around 70 per cent full on weekday afternoons and at capacity at the weekend.

“Therefore, on the basis of the available evidence rather than supposition, it is not the case that people need further encouragement to use it.

“There is no evidence that removing or reducing parking charges encourages visits to a town centre.

“Far more important is the availability and ease of access to car parking spaces.”

Councillor Khalil Ahmed then asked council leader Katrina Wood why she had decided to increase parking charges “at a time when businesses are struggling to make ends meet”.

Cllr Wood echoed Cllr Adey’s comments – and said the reason behind increasing parking charges is to bring them in line with neighbouring councils.

She said: “It is a common misconception that footfall in town centres is affected by parking charges.

“Research indicates that far more important factors are the availability and ease of use of parking facilities.

Parking charges have not increased for 10 years or more; the current increases are to bring them up to a similar level with neighbouring authorities in order to ensure that the parking service is viable and that we can invest in improving quality and increasing supply as required.”