A SEAFRONT restaurant boss fears she may have to slash opening hours and could lose “even more customers” to Leigh after controversial new parking charges were given the go-ahead.

From July 1, previously free parking between 6pm and 9pm on Southend seafront will now see visitors charged £3 per hour after plans were rubber stamped by councillors.

Angry traders say people out for an evening meal will be almost certain to go elsewhere rather than pay an extra £9 for their night out.

The new charges, put forward when the former Tory administrations budget proposals were hijacked earlier this year, were signed off at a meeting of the traffic regulations working party on Thursday.

At the meeting Antonia Waite, owner of Oyster Creek Kitchen on Western Esplanade, said already steep seafront parking charges had impacted businesses which have been forced to cut their opening hours because of falling visitor numbers.

She said: “With the extra parking costs it looks we will have no choice but to cut our opening hours even further. This will lead directly to further job losses.

“If you look around half the Arches are closed entirely or they are up for sale, as is Toulouse.

“It’s very hard to justify to our customers a £9 parking fee per visit.”

Ms Waite accused the council of making the seafront a “laughing stock” for visitors.

She added: “If this goes ahead we will simply lose yet more customers to other restaurants around the town, Old Leigh, Leigh Broadway and the High Street where parking is completely free, as well as to out of town restaurants.

“This damages us and it also means the town may not get the extra parking revenue.”

Ms Waite said the stretch of seafront was dead in the winter and on rainy days but even on a sunny day during the recent half-term there were almost no cars parked up.

She said: “We believe the parking charges are already having a huge detrimental effect. The central seafront might still be busy but the periphery where we are is incredibly quiet. We should be aiming to have a busy vibrant seafront, especially in the half-term holidays instead we will be one of the most expensive seafronts in the country.”

A petition against the charges, started by Adventure Island boss Philip Miller, has reached 577 signatures.

After the decision, Mr Miller rounded on the council, He said: “It is a fact that if you increase the price of something, less of it will be bought.

“Southend cannot afford to lose a single customer, these new charges are already affecting locals let alone trippers. Life is tough outside of their Ivory Towers.

“I highly recommend [visitors] park in the high street it’s half the price there.”