The controversial issue of whether to introduce parking charges in a Norfolk market town dominated a public meeting in Watton last night.

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Some 70 people gathered in the Queens Hall for the final Could We? Should We? meeting where they were told about the council’s need to make £2.7m of cuts by 2016-2017.

The contentious issue of car parking charges dominated the debate, as well as the need for a 63-camera CCTV system across the five Breckland market towns.

Potential car parking charges were the most common cause of concern at the previous four Could We? Should We? meetings in Thetford, Dereham, Attleborough and Swaffham.

Breckland council leader William Nunn said: “We have all recognised the public sector is an expensive body.

“Most people think it is an overpriced body... We are working on closing that funding gap.”

But he said the authority would have to make some difficult decisions and he would like to run the authority more like a business.

The cost to Breckland of maintaining the car parks across its five market towns each year is £300,000. Options to introduce hourly charges or keeping the car parks free for the first two hours were put forward as alternatives to filling the government funding gap.

Businessman Chris Edwards said: “Watton is the epitome of a market town that is slowly seeing its high street being degraded.”

He asked Breckland to listen to the 6,500 people who signed a petition against parking charges.

Another businessman said the charges would be the “death knell” for Watton High Street.

Paul Adcock, another businessman, said: “I appreciate the council is between a rock and a hard place. If it is a question of cutting the cloth accordingly; don’t cut things that raise the economy.”

At the end of the meeting, residents were able to vote on a number of options for services to cut, including CCTV in Breckland, which costs£254,000 annually, community development support, which costs £95,000 annually, pest control, which costs £30,000 and the council magazine Breckland Voice, which costs £57,000.

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