COUNCIL chiefs who made £4.4m through parking fees in Oxfordshire last year claim it was needed to balance their books.

Year-on-year, councils in Oxfordshire have made an extra £383,000 through parking fees.

The figures for April 2011 to March 2012, representing a 9.86 per cent rise, were released just weeks after it was revealed that parking charges in Oxford and at some park-and-ride depots would go up.

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council reported multi-million-pound surpluses in their parking accounts for the period.

But other district councils in the county reported deficits or broke even.

In 2010/11, Oxfordshire County Council made a surplus of £1.135m, which increased to £1.339m the following year.

And Oxford City Council increased its surplus from £2.739m in 2010/11 to £3.090m in 2011/12.

The news was criticised by traders and campaigners, who have called for fees to come down in Oxford.

Publican James Knox, who runs the Duke’s Cut, next to the Worcester Street car park, said: “I think the parking charges in Oxford are exorbitant, they clearly don’t want cars in the city centre. They want people to use the park-and-rides, but parking charges have just been introduced by the county council.

“I see people on a daily basis who complain about the car parking charges because they come in to get change.

“I think they should use the surplus to bring down parking fees.”

Elaine Bellenger, who owns fashion store Monaco in Old High Street, Headington, said: “I read about the debate over whether Bicester Village should be allowed to expand, and I was thinking about it and they have one big advantage over us and that’s free parking.

“We’re never going to compete with them unless parking is free, and it’s never going to become free because we’re a city.”

Vale of White Horse District Council, which offers two hours free parking in Abingon, Faringdon and Wantage, saw the opposite – with a deficit of £10,000 doubled to £20,000 last year.

West Oxfordshire’s deficit of £144,000 remained consistent in both years.

Federation of Small Businesses Oxfordshire branch chairman Margaret Coles said high parking fees, not just in Oxford but in towns like Bicester and Banbury, were driving shoppers to other areas.

She said: “From where I live, near Banbury, I can get to towns in West Oxfordshire like Chipping Norton or Witney, where parking is free.

“I think parking charges should come down because it is affecting all retailers. The councils are really shooting themselves in the foot.”

But city council executive board member for finance Ed Turner said he had issues with the word ‘surplus’ being used.

He said: “As a council we rely on council tax, Government grants, income from investment properties and other income, which includes parking.

“The money we make on parking is used to pay for other services we provide. It is a source of revenue for us.

“We are sympathetic and aware of the economic climate, which is why parking charges have been frozen for the last two years, but we have no choice but to introduce the inflation rise we have proposed this year.”

County council spokesman Owen Morton said: “Surplus in income is utilised as per legislation to support transport-related activity and in the case of Oxford, is primarily used to support the cost of operating, maintaining and improving the county council’s park-and-ride facilities.”

Gavin Walton, spokesman for Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire councils, said: “In December 2011 the Vale introduced two hours free parking in all council car parks, with the aim of boosting local town centre trade.”

In its draft budget for next year, the city council said car parking charges in the city would rise by two per cent and its park-and-ride depots at Seacourt, Pear Tree and Redbridge would put up their parking charges from £1.50 to £2 per day.

The county council last week announced it would charge a daily rate for the use of its Water Eaton and Thornhill park-and-ride services, after it introduced long-stay parking charges before Christmas.