CRITICS claim petitions calling for two-hour free parking in Southend have been ignored.

More than 2,000 people signed a petition calling on Southend Council to introduce free parking schemes to boost visitors to the ailing town centre.

A separate petition raised 1,800 signatures.

And Brian Ayling, independent councillor for St Luke’s ward, backed the petitioners and has echoed concern the proposal was hardly discussed.

Southend Council has indicated it is overhauling parking in the borough, which includes a plan by deputy leader Ron Woodley to introduce parking permits with a monthly fee, giving residents from anywhere in south Essex three hours parking anywhere in the town.

So far, the plans don’t appear to involve spells of free parking which have been dismissed as too costly.

Mr Ayling said: “What annoys me more than anything is this blind adherence to finance.

“Ron [Woodley] is saying it would cost £1million that we can’t afford but we can afford the £2.5million consultation on a cliffs museum?

“We can’t consider losing £1million without considering the benefits of more people coming into town.

“The petition was never really considered. It wasn’t really talked about but put to one side without ever really considering it but more than 3,000 residents are being ignored.”

Josie Hewitt, who helped raise the 2,000 signatures has lobbied councillors saying she had requested “many times to see and understand the debate that ensured at each meeting where the petition, an agenda item, was appropriately discussed”.

She added: “I have seen copies of each meeting minutes, and they have no details of the debate and exactly why the petition was declined.”

Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council said the petitions were given serious consideration but would have been too costly to implement.

He said: “Free two-hour parking in town would cost approximately £1million.

“The petition was taken seriously but it was deemed unaffordable. The highways department already has a budget deficit so I am working on that.”