TRADERS have called for Hambleton District Council’s leadership to apologise after “misleading the public” over a proposed rise in car parking charges.

Business leaders say they fear the move will spark an exodus of shoppers on high streets across the district, creating “tumbleweed town centres”.

The proposal, which remains shrouded in secrecy but is understood to see fees rise by 100 per cent from July, is being led by the authority’s leader, Councillor Neville Huxtable.

He said last month the authority had “made no secret of the fact we intend to increase charges in Hambleton District Council car parks in 2013”.

Coun Huxtable said it “was clearly stated as being the plan when charges were introduced.

However, it has emerged the Tory manifesto featured a single line about car parking charges stating: “We will continue our freeze on car parking charges until 2013.”

Following a Freedom Of Information request from Northallerton shopkeeper Marcus Grover to the council questioning whether the public had been informed of the plan, Sandra Walbran, director of customer services, appeared to dispel Coun Huxtable’s claims.

She said: “The council has not given any prior public notice of the intention to increase car parking charges”, except for a comment issued by the Coun Huxtable to the media on October 22.

She said: “When parking charges were formally introduced in 2009, members stated there would be no increase in charges in the life of the council that introduced the charges.”

Mr Grover said: “The public will be expecting Hambleton District Council to apologise for this misinformation.”

Coun Huxtable, who will meet Conservative members to discuss the proposal on Monday, and his deputy, Coun Ron Kirk, said they would not publicly discuss any issues relating to the car parking plan.

However, firms across the district have been incensed that the level of the proposed increase would not be discussed until a meeting of the council’s cabinet on December 11, only hours before a full council meeting decides whether to ratify it.

One shop, Lewis & Cooper, has said it would consider relocating if charges are doubled.