Dorset Council has said it will not get rid of car park charges to help the high street recover, after revealing a loss of more than £1 million from car park income alone during the lockdown period.

As previously reported, Dorset Council made parking in its car parks free from March 28 to May 12 this year. The council has now revealed that it would normally have received about £1.4 million in income from car parks during this period. This is typically around 16 per cent of the council's overall car park income for the year.

The re-introduction of charges for council-owned car parks was labelled as ‘ridiculous’ by former Dorchester mayor David Taylor. He said instead the council should leave parking free to help local businesses get back on their feet.

However, the council has claimed that making parking free again could have a negative effect on high streets and businesses.

A Dorset Council spokesman said: Free parking was discussed at length while devising our Re-opening High Streets Safely programme. However, introducing this may actually hinder the recovery of the high street by leaving spaces occupied all day and preventing more shoppers from being able to park later in the day. It also removes a significant funding stream for the council which we cannot do without at the moment due to the financial challenges our services are facing as a result of Covid-19.

"Throughout the pandemic we have processed more than £100m of business grants to support the high street and other businesses. We will continue to support local businesses through our extensive programme of work to make high streets and town centres safer, as well as run our ‘Stay Local, Shop Local’ communications campaign in conjunction with town and parish councils."

According to figures released by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, local authorities across the country were anticipating to bank more than £885 million in parking fees alone, but lockdown and the suspension of parking charges throughout the Covid-19 crisis period means councils will not receive the income they budgeted for when they drew up their plans for the year.

Many councils use parking charge income to pay for road improvements and pothole repairs. However, as high streets start to re-open many retailers are asking councils to make parking free so they have a better chance of recovery.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA said: “If councils weren’t already under significant pressure, they’ll be bracing themselves even more as they see a huge chunk of their income for the year lost.

“For being so dependent on this income stream, councils are now stuck at a crossroad; waive the fees entirely and absorb the financial hit, or reapply them and risk hurting, or worse, losing businesses that bring in business rates and jobs in their towns.

“This loss of revenue should also act as a wakeup call to towns and cities intent on banning drivers from their centres. If they ban cars completely, they need to be prepared to lose a huge chunk of a major income source.”