Possible plans to end free parking in Sudbury and Hadleigh have been labelled ridiculous by councillors and local business owners.
The parking is being looked at by the Conservative Group of Babergh district councillors.
Currently users of Babergh car parks in the two towns get three hours free parking, with a £2 all-day fee for any longer.
Previous attempts to remove the parking perk have been rejected following strong opposition. But, with a Conservative majority on the council for the first time it is feared the plans could be put through.
Business owners, councillors and chamber of commerce members from both towns have reacted angrily to the news, including Sudbury mayor Jack Owen who has voiced opposition.
Penny Wilby, owner of the BestofSudbury website, said: “It’s ridiculous that they should even consider charging. I have spoken to quite a few people, public and retailers. One woman said she would move out of Sudbury, another member of the public said she wouldn’t come into Sudbury much.
“It would be a disaster. There isn’t enough in Sudbury for people to pay for. People come from Colchester and Bury because of the free parking.”
Mrs Wilby believed people would stand together to fight against any change.
“That’s not what Sudbury wants,” she added. “It won’t help Sudbury. Retailers are struggling in small market towns. It’s our selling point.”
She warned any improvements in trade following the recession could be destroyed by parking charges.
“If you are coming in for the day paying £2 is reasonable but not if you just want to pop in.”
The free parking has not yet been taken to Babergh District Council, but it being examined as councillors look to make savings and find new forms of revenue with ever-increasing budget restrictions.
Despite this, both Sudbury and Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce (HCC) have opposed the news, stating free parking is vital for the survival of local businesses and the local economy.
On its website HCC wrote: “This appears to have significant support from councillors, some even asking to add residents’ parking restrictions on the surrounding roads.
“Of course, the plan includes free parking for staff at Babergh offices.”
The HCC statement continued: “These people seem to think that businesses can survive any restrictions that are applied.”
Jane Hatton Sudbury Town Team development manager, said: “Keeping three hours free parking in Sudbury is important to both businesses, visitors and residents.
“In a survey of businesses in Sudbury Town Centre in January 2014, free car parking was the main issue which was raised as the most important factor to the success of their business in the future.
“Another survey carried out by the Sudbury Town Team and Gainsborough’s House of visitors and residents who visited the town centre which come out in June 2015 showed that 31.7 per cent came into Sudbury because of the free parking.”
Chris Storey from Sudbury Chamber of Commerce added: “A careful scrutiny of the details surrounding the location of Sudbury, access to the town and other retail centres and the particular challenges of the town centre should make it absolutely clear that three hours free parking is essential if the town centre is not to decline significantly.
“From a purely economic perspective the council should not have any grounds for bringing in charges. The town is dependent on this for its future prosperity and a more retrograde step is hard to envisage.
“The Chamber in conjunction with the Town Team remain resolved to fight these proposals and ensure that the town centre can have a long term viable and successful future for the benefit of all, including Babergh District Council.”
Residents on both Sudbury and Hadleigh social media pages have reacted angrily to the possible removal of the free parking.