PARKING charges are on their way to Pontardawe despite a campaign to keep them at bay.
But Neath Port Talbot Council has made concessions after listening to concerns voiced by Pontardawe Town Council and the Chamber of Trade.
They were against any charges being imposed, arguing traders needed all the help they could get to stay afloat.
They also pointed out most shoppers tended to pop into the shopping centre for a very short time, and it would be unfair on them to have to pay.
As a result of this, councillors have agreed to allow the first hour free of charge.
That will apply to both the Herbert Street car park and the bypass car park, after the council did a U-turn over its proposals to make the latter long-stay only.
Instead some 40 spaces will be provided for short-stay parking and around 18 for long stay.
The long-stay bays will also be £1 a day cheaper, to encourage people to use them and free up short-stay bays for those wanting to shop in the town.
Pontardawe Chamber of Trade chairman John Jones said: "It would be reasonable and fair if charges were imposed in council car parks in all other communities in Neath Port Talbot."
"But that is not the case, and it is unfair to single out Pontardawe."
Mr Jones said the council had pointed out 90 per cent of people using the car parks stayed less than an hour and so would not have to pay anything.
Despite this, the council would still have to spend on pay and display ticket machines and on a parking attendant.
"It is not economical," added Mr Jones.
The decision to introduce the charges, and how much people would have to pay, was made by the environment and highways cabinet board yesterday.
Its meeting immediately followed a lengthy, sometimes feisty debate by the environment and highways scrutiny committee.
Pontardawe member Linet Purcell made what she described as the most important speech of her political career so far, in which she argued against the imposition of charges.
She said traders were already struggling to keep their heads above water, and claimed many people making quick visits to the centre such as to collect prescriptions or drop off children at a playgroup would be penalised.
"This isn't just about sums of money," she said. "It's about people's livelihoods."
However, Councillor Des Davies said parking would be free for the first hour, and only 50p for the second hour.
"Most people do their normal pop-into-town shopping in two hours easy," he said.
"All this scare-mongering about poor old ladies popping in to collect their prescription having to pay to park.
"It's the same about mums dropping off their children for creche or dancing classes. They can all do that in an hour so they won't be affected at all."
The Pontardawe parking charges will come into force from April next year.
Time to help our businesses — Have Your Say, page 12