THE Bridport News is backing the town’s campaign to keep its on-street parking free.

Dorset County Council’s plans to introduce charges for on-street parking have mobilised traders, residents and politicians to fight to keep Bridport free.

Nearly half the town’s population has already signed a petition started by market traders’ representative Ron Gregory.

The town’s business chamber has condemned the idea and politicians have devised a survey to find out how people use the free spaces in East, West and South Street.

County, district and town councillor Ros Kayes said: “Thank you very much to Bridport News for backing this campaign. It’s really important that the town’s newspaper gets behind this and it’s fantastic to have such good support.”

The News office in East Street will carry the petition and the survey and will act as a drop off point for completed forms.

The petition will be presented to the county council on October 1 and there will be deputations from market traders and the town council.

Coun Kayes said: “The difficulty with this situation is they have this one size fits all policy over the whole of the county and that decision was taken in 2007. They will have to be persuaded that we have a legitimate reason to be treated differently.”

Politicians have vowed to collected evidence to prove Bridport’s one-hour free parking benefits trade in the town.

The move comes as the number of signatures on the petition opposing Dorset County Council’s plans to charge for on-street parking tops 5,000.

Traders and politicians met MP Oliver Letwin last week to discuss the charges.

Mr Letwin said: “I think the traders, the chamber of commerce and the town council have made an overwhelmingly strong case that Bridport and on-street parking charges don't mix.

“I shall try to persuade the county council that they should not introduce on-street parking charges in the town, and should seek other means of balancing the books of the parking enforcement account."

Market traders’ spokesman Ron Gregory, who started the petition, said they were still collecting signatures but it was time for politicians to take the fight on.

Town, district and county councillor Ros Kayes said they would be doing just that.

She said: “We are organising a survey like we did with the hospital to find out how people who park in the town are using the road side parking.

“We want to provide the county council with evidence that this will be very damaging to our town centre.

“Quite often they are people from the villages who don’t have a shop in the village who come in several times a week and a lot of them are elderly.

“If then can’t park in Bridport for free they will go and park in supermarket car parks.

“We have to have proof to make a special case for Bridport.”

She said the petition and information would be presented to the environment overview committee on October 1.

At Tuesday night’s meeting former town crier John Morey wanted councillors to demand an explanation about how parking metres could reduce congestion.

He said: “Which planet does this man from or he wouldn’t come up with a suggestion like this which is going to ruin the town.”

John Nester of Bridget’s Market said he hadn’t heard of a single person who was not opposed to the idea.

He said: “It is completely ludicrous.”

Coun David Tett accused the county of trying to fleece the motorist.

“I would like to know who these people are in their ivory towers pontificating what is good for Bridport.

“Whoever they are I hope they will drop this ludicrous idea and leave well alone.”

Matthew Piles, traffic manager for Dorset County Council, said the proposals were essential o ease congestion and keep traffic moving safely and efficiently.

He said: “The greater turn-over of visitors, who can park cheaply for short periods while they do their shopping, will also benefit traders and the local economy.

“It is not about raising revenue. Any money raised from on-street parking would be reinvested into the council's traffic management service. It would fund the maintenance of signs, lines and meters, plus enforcement work.”

He said formal public would begin after cabinet members decide whether to go ahead or not.

“Nothing has been agreed at this stage,” he said.

The petition needs to be signed by noon next Friday September 27 and the completed survey forms need to be returned by the end of October.

Forms are available in the Bridport News office now and will be in shops by the weekend.