TRADERS in Stourbridge's Old Quarter fear their businesses could be killed off if plans to hit the area with a parking permit scheme go ahead.
Dudley Council announced last week that it would be consulting with residents in 45 congested side streets over a proposal that could see householders charged £95 per year for each vehicle they wish to park outside their homes.
If adopted, the scheme would also mean residents would have to buy books of tickets to enable visitors to park in the streets without fear of being hit with a fine.
But traders, who have not yet been fully informed how the scheme would affect businesses, fear parking charges of any kind would drive customers away and hit trade hard.
Stuart Millward, who runs the House of Magic Shop in Brook Street, branded the idea “mad”.
He said: “On Saturdays I may have six customers in the shop, so do I need six permits at a cost of nearly £600?
“If they do roll out this scheme I’ve lost my business; it’s that serious. I’m so angry about it.”
He added: “It’s not just customers who wouldn’t be able to park, what about deliveries and what about elderly people who rely on district nurses visiting?”
Councillor Khurshid Ahmed, Dudley Council’s cabinet member for transport, said the scheme had been thought up to stop visitors and workers clogging up the narrow residential roads rather than paying to park on council-run town car parks.
He described it as a “cost-neutral” venture but said it couldn’t be delivered "without people paying for it".
But Mr Millward hit back, saying: “If it’s not a money-making scheme why not give free permits? I don’t think they’ve really thought it through with regard to the businesses."
John Stephens, who has run Stephens Carpet Warehouse in Brook Street for nearly 50 years, said: “I think the people who dreamed up this scheme haven't got a clue about the area to which it applies. There are a number of businesses in the area and I'm wondering if the people in Dudley even know that.
"Parking can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance but in general terms people find their level and if they can’t park right outside their front door they park somewhere else. I’ve never seen anyone fighting in the street about it. I don’t see the point of the exercise.
"It’s going to lose a lot of our customers if it goes through.
"Nine out of ten of our customers come by car and rely on on-street parking. I can’t understand why they can’t just leave it alone."
Carol-Ann Perks, whose hair salon in Clifton Street has been open for 41 years, said: "Small businesses are struggling anyway and this is going to kill off trade. If I've got to pay for customers to come and visit me I may as well shut up shop."
Richard Dowen, who runs the Washeteria and Duvet Centre in Clifton Street, added: "It's ridiculous. There are about 30 to 40 people whose livelihoods are going to be threatened."
But Cllr Ahmed stressed: "This is just a consultation at the moment. It's imperative that people respond. Everybody's view will be considered."
He said letters about the scheme were being delivered this week and people will have until March 7 to have their say.
And he said he would "be as flexible" as he could with businesses in the area, adding: "I don't expect them to buy a permit for each shopper that comes in and spends five minutes in a shop. We've got to apply common sense. We need to have careful consideration of how we deal with it."
Wollaston and Stourbridge Town councillor Barbara Sykes said "fine tuning" would be necessary to determine how to deal with business, customer and visitor parking requirements but she said: "It isn't an insurmountable problem."
She added: "We're not saying the scheme's perfect but it's a very, very good starting point. If the electorate chooses to reject it so be it but we were asked for it, we're trying to deliver it."
The council says the scheme would run initially as a 12-month trial - and the pilot will only get underway if 80 per cent of residents in the Old Quarter support the idea.