Devon County Council has backed down on plans to introduce paid on-street parking in eight Devon towns this week following widespread opposition.

News broke on Tuesday (March 5) that Devon County Council had “recommended not to proceed” with the plan to install pay and display parking meters in Okehampton, Tavistock, Crediton, Dartmouth, Sidmouth, Braunton, Salcombe and Honiton.

“This will be a great relief to retailers and traders in Devon’s towns, especially here in Okehampton where there was real concern over the impact it would have on business,” said West Devon borough councillor for Okehampton North, George Dexter.

“Many people signed our petition, I’m pleased Devon County have listened. What Devon County should now be doing is to see what steps they can take to build business in our towns, especially for our small independent retailers and traders who are having a very difficult time at the moment.”

There had been plans to stage a protest against the parking meters outside County Hall in Exeter on March 13 – the day on which Devon County Council Cabinet members will ratify the decision – but in light of the news, this will not go ahead now.

Janna Sanders, Tavistock Business Improvement District (BID) -manager, said: “We have been campaigning hard for months now and we could not ask for better news. Our voice has been heard and we thank DCC for doing the right thing!

Businesses have been reporting one of the worst trading periods on the high street for many years and are currently trying their hardest to maximise the opportunities to make some amends for a financially difficult year and deliver great service to customers. This is the best news we could ask for to support the high street and protect and promote our unique and special town centre.”

Under the county council’s proposals, the first hour of parking will be free, with an option to pay for a second hour, but all drivers will have to display tickets.

DCC has said that it is considering the installation of parking meters in order to manage congestion, improve air quality and maintain access to premises.

In a statement of reasons the county council stated: “It is proposed to introduce pay and display in key areas to manage congestion, improve air quality, and maintain reasonable access to premises.

However, residents in both Okehampton and Tavistock have argued differently

A survey conducted by BID, and presented at the public meeting in the Bedford Hotel, revealed that the average time people parked in town centre streets was 28 minutes, resulting in a “good churn” of vehicles and shoppers.

Seventy-two per cent said they would visit the town less if meters were installed and it has been estimated that local trade would suffer by half.

The present one-hour parking restriction work well, said campaigners, and congestion and air quality problems “didn’t exist” in Tavistock.

They said they had to do their own surveys as no evidence or data had been produced by the county council.

In Okehampton, the town council carried out a survey late last year to gauge public opinion on the proposed introduction of parking meters.

The results revealed that the vast majority of residents, businesses and visitors were opposed to the idea. Of 1,186 responses, 1,782 said they oppose the plan with over 1,000 saying that their use of the town centre would change if the parking meters were installed and would either visit the centre less frequently or not visit at all as a result.

The news follows a recent public meeting in Tavistock at which two county councillors pledged to oppose the pay and display parking scheme.

Cllr Philip Sanders (Con, Yelverton Rural) called it “a money-making exercise” by Devon County Council (DCC) and that he was “vehemently” against it. And Cllr Debo Sellis (Con, Tavistock) said the on-street meters would be “detrimental” to the town.

On Tuesday, county council leader John Hart, who will chair next Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, said: “We are listening to the county councillors who have represented their towns very forcefully. We are listening to the residents and businesses in these towns and to their local councils.

“Many of our towns have parking and congestion issues which need to be tackled but it’s important that any solution has the support of the local community. We are listening to them.”