A MASS protest against the introduction of on-street parking meters has been organised to pressurise county councillors who will be making a key decision on the future of a controversial idea for Tavistock, Okehampton and other Devon towns.

Campaigners aganst the idea are calling on a large turnout at Devon County Council’s County Hall in Exeter on Wednesday, March 13. The meeting county’s cabinet is due to consider the proposal on the day from 10.30am.

There has been mounting opposition to the scheme, which has been open for consultation online over December, because it is widely feared shoppers will be deterred from town centres and thereby harm trade for the many small independent traders.

The county council says on-street parking charges work well in many small towns and help create a healthy turnover of visitors, reduce congestion and pollution and support local businesses with good access to shops.

However, opponents say there has been no evidence that the change is needed and that the current scheme, which offers one hour free parking before being required to move - with no return within two hours. The parking meters would allow one hour’s free parking, with charging for any longer parking. Campaigners, who include West Devon borough, Tavistock town, some parish councils and Tavistock Business Improvement District (BID), say they and the public have not been consulted adequately and there is not enough evidence to back the county’s case. BID says the town centre parking is used the majority of the time by people who stay up to 30 minutes, while 30 per cent stay about ten minutes or less - proving its case that there is already a high turnover of visitors.

Tavistock town Cllr Steve Hipsey said: “The current arrangement ensures the available space is very effectively used as drivers pull in for short periods, do a bit of shopping and move on. The proposed system would allow drivers to remain and occupy space for up to two hours and severely disrupt this effective pattern and make the whole system inefficient.” BID says very little revenue from the meters would be generated from the scheme’s operation, although the county council says there is no profit motive. Cllr Hipsey said: “These proposals represent an existential threat to many shops and businesses. Shops and banks are closing at an increasing rate as it is, showing Tavistock is nearing a tipping point where its future as a local community hub could easily be extinguished.” Tavistock and West Devon Cllr Jeff Moody is concerned parking meters would harm the town’s heritage: “DCC’s failure to consider the impact of meters on Tavistock’s conservation area and its World Heritage status raises questions about their commitment to preserving the town’s heritage.” He also says meters would displace drivers to residential streets and reduce access to disabled parking.