RETAILERS and residents in Pontardawe are abusing parking spaces in Pontardawe, an AM has been told.
Shadow Transport Minister Bryron Davies said the claim came after he wrote to Neath Port Talbot Council voicing opposition to plans to start charging drivers for parking in the town.
The authority withdrew proposals to introduce the charges to the Swansea Valley town a year ago, while regeneration work was under way.
But new proposals for their introduction have now been included in the authority's Forward Financial Plan, which outlines how the authority will manage its finances between 2013 and 2018. If the plan is approved by councillors, the proposed parking charges could then be introduced.
Charges are opposed by traders in the town, who fear it will kill off passing trade, and a 3,500 name petition against their introduction has been drawn up in just a few weeks.
Earlier this month Plaid leader Leanne Wood visited the town to voice opposition the charges, describing them as "the wrong move at the wrong time".
AM Byron Davies has now written to Neath Port Talbot Council, calling them to think again about the charges.
And he says in a reply to his letter, the authority's head of engineering and transport, David Griffiths said free parking in Pontardawe was deemed no longer sustainable from both a "maintenance and equality perspective."
And Mr Griffiths added: "Sadly, these [car parks] are all too often abused by the local retailers and residents of the town themselves, preventing turn-over of spaces and parking for potential visitors and shoppers alike."
Mr Davies said: "It would be foolish, in my view, to clobber shoppers supporting small businesses in town like Pontardawe with parking charges when they can go to any number of out of town sites and park for free.
"What is clear that our high streets are in crisis.
"A national report this week has found that Wales is suffering more than many other parts of the UK.
"I urge Neath Port Talbot to be bold and back traders in this town.
"There may be fewer empty shops there now but that could change drastically if footfall drops as a result of parking charges being introduced,"