Gloucestershire council leaders have done a U-turn over plans to hike parking charges by 300 per cent and instead will now offer the first hour free.

The Green Party administration at Forest of Dean District Council are considering increasing fees and charges as part of their budget for the next financial year.

And their initial plans were to increase the cost to park for the minimum stay of up to two hours from 50p to £2.

However, after receiving strong feedback during the public consultation they have dropped these proposals.

The new parking charge changes, if approved, would see free parking rolled out to all council car parks for the first hour.

However, it will cost £1.50 to park for two hours up from the current charge of 50p. While the charge to park for up to three hours would rise from £1 to £2.

And anyone parking for up to four hours would have to pay £2.50 – it currently costs £1.50.

People parking for the whole day would be expected to pay £3 while it currently costs £2.

Council leader Mark Topping (G, Lydney West and Aylburton) says they have listened to the public feedback and hope the new parking charge scheme will be one that meets the needs of residents and businesses.

“One thing that came out of the consultation was how important the free spaces were,” he said.

“That ability to come and go. If you’re going to pop in for something like a pint of milk, newspaper or a prescription, having to pay any charge even if it’s 50p is a pain for people.

“This huge extension in both the number of free spaces available which will be all of them and then the length of time extended from 30 minutes to an hour will make a big difference to a lot of people.

“There’s nothing worse than a consultation where people think why take part? They never do anything, they’ve made their mind ups and they are just ticking a box.

“I hope that is clear from this. We really have taken on board what people have said and responded accordingly.

“There is an increase in charges as part of the proposals but we are removing the charge for the first hour.

“It’s being done because this is a council service. If we were a private car park we would be trying to squeeze every last penny we could out of people.”

Cllr Topping also said the key thing is that the car parks can pay for themselves as they currently run at a loss of around of £15,000 a year.

The now axed proposals to hike charges by up to 300 per cent would have generated around £200,000, finance chiefs estimated.

However, Cllr Topping believes the new proposals should still allow the car parks to at least break even and provide a profit.

“It will be able to pay for itself, maintenance of the car parks and an improvement of the service.

“But what that will be, it’s very difficult to say. Hopefully, it will be £10,000s in credit but we will have to assess as the year progresses.”

The cost of permits will also increase under the current proposals.

The weekly ticket could rise from £6 to £7 while the monthly, three monthly and six monthly permits are expected to increase from £20, £55 and £95 to £22, £57 and £99 respectively.

Council leaders propose increasing the annual permit from £180 to £185 and the overnight charge to park between 5pm and 9am would stay the same at £50.

The final budget proposals will be debated by all councillors at a meeting in Coleford later this month.