Fears parking charges could be introduced in Midsomer Norton have prompted a petition signed by more than 1,100 people.
The petition calling for parking in Midsomer Norton to be kept free of charge was handed to Bath and North East Somerset Council last week by members of Midsomer Norton and Radstock Chamber of Commerce.
It was organised in response to a recent report by B&NES presented to a council committee in July which said the authority would be looking into the possibility of bringing in parking charges at free car parks outside of Bath city centre.
Last week Councillor Michael Evans (Con, Midsomer Norton North) pressed the council cabinet member for transport, Roger Symonds (Lib Dem, Combe Down), about parking charges and asked him to justify claims in the report which state that parking charges do not stop people visiting towns to do their shopping.
Mr Symonds replied saying that "parking is not free" and that the burden of cost for running, maintaining and enforcing parking falls on all council tax payers, regardless of where they live within B&NES or whether they drive.
He said that studies had shown that accessibility was more important and that by introducing parking charges it might make it easier for people to park – which he said in turn, could result in more people visiting shopping districts.
He added: "Unrestricted car parking does not on the whole generate a level of vehicle turnover necessary to support the economic viability of destinations as the parking spaces are usually taken up by commuters, workers and other long stay parking and this can reduce accessibility for those wanting to visit."
Mr Evans said: "We are giving our one hundred per cent backing to calls for free parking to be kept in Midsomer Norton.
"Hopefully the petition organised by local traders will demonstrate the strength of feeling among residents and businesses on this issue.
"Despite the Lib Dems' claims, there is a lot of evidence to support free parking. The Government's Portas report on supporting high streets called for free parking, and this was backed up in a recent survey by Confused.com which revealed that 65 per cent of consumers are put off from shopping locally by expensive parking charges.
"We will continue to argue our case to B&NES and press the Lib Dems to commit to maintaining free parking in Midsomer Norton."
Councillor Chris Watt (Con, Midsomer Norton Redfield) added: "The idea that introducing parking charges can actually increase local trade in Midsomer Norton, as B&NES has suggested, simply beggars belief." "