SHOP and restaurant owners in Bewdley have launched a petition demanding two hours free parking in the town centre, claiming increased charges have caused profits to plummet.

More than 30 independent traders have rallied behind a new 'Save Our Shops' campaign, which will officially launch on Small Business Saturday (December 1) with posters put up in store windows advertising the petition, which will be available to sign inside.

The petition was organised after Wyre Forest District Council upped charges at certain district car parks in September - a move some Bewdley traders say has lead to a 40 per cent decrease in sales.

Jon May, co-founder of Mooch Gifts & Home in Load Street, said: "Most of the town's street parking is only 30 minutes free - just enough time to queue in the post office, let alone have a coffee and a look around the shops.

"Nationally we see high streets dying and large chains closing stores, but on a local level the same challenges exist for us all.

"We are just asking for two hours free parking for everyone who visits the town - a small gesture but one that will keep Bewdley the beautiful town it is for the many thousands who visit.

"Nobody wants to see a street full of empty shops but the grim reality is that is what will happen unless Wyre Forest District Council takes action."

Long stay car parks in the town centre currently charge £1.40 for an hours parking, or £6.90 for six to 24 hours.

Traders also claim to have noticed an increased presence of traffic wardens, which they say is scaring shoppers away from the town centre.

Corrie Hill, who runs Mrs Chills Ice Cream Parlour and The Bistro, which are both in Bewdley town centre, said: "We are not asking for all day free parking, just two hours a day to encourage people to shop locally, rather than travel out of town to large supermarket chains and shopping centres where they can park for free."

Traders plan to present the petition to Wyre Forest District Council at the end of January.

Councillor Rebecca Vale, cabinet member for operational services at the council, said: “Shops play a vital role in the district by supporting the local economy and by meeting the needs of both residents and tourists.

"We really appreciate feedback from shop owners and will look at the recommendations made in their petition.

“Shoppers can already take advantage of our all year round, one hour free parking scheme in six council-owned car parks including Gardners Meadow, Bewdley.

"Our festive offer is also running at the moment where parking is free after 4pm until Sunday, January 6. More information on our car parks can be found at”