BUSINESS owners have denounced the council after parking charges outside their stores skyrocketed, leaving them terrified of losing customers.
Customers visiting Navigation Point, a tourist hotspot in Hartlepool, County Durham, now have to pay a hefty bill just to park.
The once-popular private car park has raised fees while halving the free waiting time from 30 minutes to just 15.
In addition to the fare hike, the parking meter has also become cashless, raising fears that older people may be completely discouraged.
Locals are furious that the marina car park has become just another “money-making project” at the expense of their customers.
Now the bosses of 30 shops, bars, restaurants and cafes have called on the council to take back the land instead of letting greedy parking companies scoop up the cash.
Layla Kipling, manager of Rappor Café, said the rate changes “just put people off coming” to the waterfront development.
She exclusively told The Sun: “It brings out the negativity. A lot of our customers are older and don’t want to use cards.
“It’s just awful for them. We weren’t told about it either. Out of nowhere on Tuesday they were there to change the signs.
“Then we have to make sure everyone knows about it and that’s awful.
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“What’s happening is people are now saying they’re not coming here anymore and they’re going to boycott it. But doing that doesn’t help businesses.”
Visitors were also bitten by the high-tech payment system – complete with ANPR cameras – for lingering just a minute over their allotted time.
Layla, 39, fumes: “Now there’s only 15 minutes of free parking.
“If someone’s in a wheelchair, there’s not enough time to park, pull out their chair and have a coffee or whatever.
“Thursday noon we would be full, but are there a lot of empty seats, which is already scary.
“That’s because it’s private land and not municipal like the downtown parking lots.
“I’d like to think bosses could sit down with business owners and discuss what to do going forward.”
‘CONFUSING’ CASHLESS SYSTEM
Drivers will now have to pay £3 for a stay of two to three hours, up from £2.50 previously.
Parking for three to five hours will now cost £4 and there is also a cost of £8 for a 24 hour stay, which is up from £6.
Customer Louise Irvin, 59, was left in disbelief by the new charges and says it took her three attempts to successfully pay with her card.
The midwife explained: “It confuses a lot of people who have to pay with their card.
“I had to do it three times on the machine because it’s not clear and it takes a long time and it took me ten minutes.
“I’m worried about long-term business. Everyone will go to the other parts of town that are free.
“I don’t know why they changed it, but I think they are trying to make as much money as possible.”
And bartender Matthew Willoughby fears rising parking fees could cripple businesses still recovering from Covid.
The 28-year-old said: “I’m not surprised the rates have changed but I’m disappointed.
“It’s getting harder and harder for local businesses to do anything here. It’s a vanity spot for the city, so why aren’t we getting help?
“Business owners don’t get permits so we have to pay as well, including the staff here who will be on minimum wage.
“These changes could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s very disheartening to see that.”
Defiant visitors are now finding ways around the fee – or visiting other business parks where they can avoid paying for parking.
Resident Ian Altringham, 63, started marching towards the nav point to protest the increased payments.
He claimed “lots of people” were considering visiting elsewhere – leaving the marina business group in crisis.
The 63-year-old explained: “I think the reason prices have gone up is simply greed.
These changes could be the final straw. It is very sad to see him.
“If they kept the prices low, they would attract more people and that would help businesses.
“Over the years, the number of companies that have disappeared has increased, which is going to have a detrimental effect.
“Now you only have 15 free minutes, which is ridiculous.”
Peter Keegan, 65, also fears other punters will boycott the scenic marina after he was slapped with a parking fine.
The Seaton Carew-based former offshore worker said: “I’ve been fined £60 in the past for going two minutes over and you feel right
now they are waiting to jump if they can.
“It’s not good for business because a lot of people might not drive here anymore.
“I stopped parking here because of the changes because I prefer to park elsewhere and walk.
“This is a private company that just wants to make money, but the council was happy to sell it.
“We don’t expect it to become free again, but it would be good if the price came back down.”
Hartlepool Borough Council has been contacted for comment.