A LEEK shop owner and councillor has backed a Government minister's call to make it easier for drivers to park in towns amid new figures showing motorists across the district have paid more than £500,000 in fees and penalty charges in the last year.
Latest figures show that Staffordshire Moorlands District Council received a total of £458,552 in the last financial year from parking charges, alongside penalties of £43,507.
The news comes as Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, this week claimed that "draconian" parking practices were undermining the economic vitality of the high streets and tourist destinations.
However, the council stresses that the amount raised from car parking is under the £555,650 which had been budgeted for, and that it takes a "consistent" approach.
Leading the way for the highest amount taken in the Staffordshire Moorlands is Tape Street car park in Cheadle which raked in £128,784. The second highest was Brook Street, Leek, which brought in £58,886, and High Street which collected £37,614.
Leek shop trader and district councillor Barry Cowie said the announcement by Mr Pickles showed the problem businesses faced.
He said: "High Street traders need help. Councils have to be more flexible to attract shoppers into the town. Also traffic wardens have got to ease off a little and be more flexible.
"The forthcoming work in Derby Street could see less parking places being available. Free parking should be made during the work. which is expected to cause more chaos.
"The district and county council could contribute to free parking while the work takes place.
"Leek does seems to being paying more than anywhere else. Also, we do not get any free days except Christmas."
Parking charges have also caused a debate in Cheadle after councillors stated they are being forced to pay for free parking out of their share of cash awarded under the Mary Portas high street initiative.
Cheadle Town mayor Ian Plant said he did not realise that the town car park was making so much money at a time they were being charged by the district council for free parking on the farmers' market days.
Mr Plant said: "The district was awarded £100,000 from the Mary Portas money to regenerate High Streets. This was to be divided between Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph. Cheadle received £25,000.
"The council has allowed us four free days in the year for Saturday parking to attract more people into town.
"However after these are used we are now being forced to pay the district council for any free farmers' market days parking out of our Mary Portas money. This is not what the money was intended for."
Mr Pickles this week stepped into the debate about car parking in towns by claiming motorists are being driven away from town centres.
He said: "Draconian town hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park.
"Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores, taking their custom with them.
"Trying to find somewhere to park has been an obstacle course in too many of our towns. Confusing and difficult car parking practices are undermining the economic vitality of the high street and tourist destinations.
"Over-zealous parking wardens have been inflicting real damage on local economies and given many towns and councils a bad name.
"Town halls need to ditch their anti-car dogma. Making it easier to park will help support local shops, local jobs and tourism."
However, a spokesman for Staffordshire Moorlands District Council said: "We take a fair and consistent approach across the Moorlands by offering free car parking on five days throughout the year to support businesses in Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph.
"This is in addition to the free parking we provide before 9.30am and after 3.30pm Monday to Saturday and all day on Sundays for residents and visitors.
"The spirit of the Mary Portas funding was to encourage people to shop and spend their leisure time in their local town centre and providing free parking was one of the suggested ways of achieving this."