THE introduction of parking charges in Pontardawe would be a blow to traders at a time when businesses across the country are struggling, according to the leader of Plaid Cymru.
Leanne Wood visited the town yesterday, days after it was revealed that proposals for parking charges in the town have been included in Neath Port Talbot Council's Forward Financial Plan.
The plan outlines how the authority will manage its finances between 2013 and 2018, and if it is approved by councillors, the proposed parking charges could then be introduced.
The proposals follow a recent petition, signed by 3,500 names, against the introduction of parking charges in Pontardawe.
Ms Wood said: "Traders in many town centres are finding business very challenging in these tough economic times and a local authority should be doing everything they can to improve the situation, not make things worse.
"Town centres should be the heart of communities. We must ensure they survive and prosper. Introducing parking charges in Pontardawe puts traders at a disadvantage and is the wrong move at the wrong time.
"The introduction of charges in other towns across Wales has seen shoppers vote with their feet by driving to out-of-town complexes where parking is free. The Party of Wales doesn't want to see Pontardawe damaged in this way. The council should scrap this proposal now."
The proposals are not the first time parking charges have been on the agenda for Pontardawe.
Plans to introduce them were considered by Neath Port Talbot last year, prompting two petitions with almost 3,000 names between them, and a host of letters of objection. But with work completed, they are once again to be considered.
Pontardawe councillor Linet Purcell said: "The traders are very grateful to Leanne Wood for taking the time to visit Pontardawe and to discuss with local businesses their concerns at the impact parking charges would have on the town centre.
"The feeling is that despite the local community's efforts to convince the council during consultation that this move was not welcome and despite submitting petitions with thousands of signatures, that Neath Port Talbot CBC is simply not listening to the people of Pontardawe and does not understand the issues involved. This support, therefore, from a political leader in highlighting our concerns, is very, very welcome."