HIGH street traders have claimed a council parking scheme which aimed to increase the number of their customers has backfired and is blighting their businesses.

Some members of Northallerton Retail and Business Forum, which employs hundreds of people in Northallerton High Street, said they were extremely worried about trade following the first two weeks of an on-street car parking charge scheme.

North Yorkshire County Council has replaced its two-hour free parking regime with one in which motorists must get a free 30-minute ticket or pay 80p an hour, as part of a plan to free the 250 High Street parking spaces to enable more shoppers to visit shops and cut congestion in the town centre.

While retailers have declined to state by how much their trade had dropped for commercial reasons, some have reported a sharp drop in sales alongside a dramatic rise in the number of empty car parking spaces.

Gareth Dant, secretary of Northallerton Retail & Business Forum, said: "The initial feedback from our members in the first two weeks or so of the new charging regime is extremely worrying.

“It is early days, and one or two outlets have reported quite positively, but these are firms whose customers generally spend much shorter times visiting.”

Steve Hewitt, of High Street firm Olivia’s bakery, said trade had significantly dropped off and that a number of nearby businesses had been hit.

After announcing the plan, the county council said it expected more shoppers to use the car parks.

Hambleton District Council said the number of people parking at its off-street car parks over the past two weeks had shown there was no difference from the same period last year.

A North Yorkshire County Council spokesman said: “It is too early to give a response on the scheme, but we are continuing to monitor the situation.”