CONSERVATIVES jumped at the opportunity to voice their concerns about options being explored by Liberal Democrat city council leaders to scrap free evening and Sunday parking in Winchester.

Winchester City Council cabinet members were presented with a raft of options that are being explored to help plug a multi-million-pound funding shortfall in the local authority's budget over the next four years.

These proposals included introducing new evening and Sunday charges in the city centre, scrapping some parking discounts and changes to park and ride fees.

Councillor Caroline Horrill, leader of the opposition, said the budget paper set "clear blue water" between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat administration.

"Residents are clearly in line for extensive increase in charges be it parking, Sunday parking, green waste, all of them are on your list," said Cllr Horrill. "In our view that is not the way to cover the budget challenges."

She added: "Drivers beware, you are in for about £1million worth of charges across various parking options and, in fact, that is impacting most people travelling to the city from the rural district rather than urban residents who can walk or cycle.

"I think there are clearly things we are finding difficult to understand. Why the residents have to pay in the way that you are proposing? We think income generation is available to you and you need to put greater emphasis on that and that would actually help you to bridge the gap."

Fellow Tory councillor Stephen Godfrey described as "an entirely predictable dash" the consideration to raise charges for car parking as well as introducing a garden waste charge.

"What is here is 'oh my god we are running out of money, better raise some charges' and that is what this paper says," siad Cllr Godfrey.

However, cabinet members hit back at opposition councillors, suggesting the finances had been left to them in a bad state by the previous administration when they took over in May.

Councillor Kelsie Learney, cabinet member for housing and asset management, said claims asset management was a solution was dangerous, citing the example of Northamptonshire council where they put a lot of faith in assets and the money this could gain.

She said this approach was a "long-term" process, which would not be suitable for addressing shortfalls in the next four years.

As previously reported, council chiefs are being forced to take significant decisions as current forecasts predict a budget gap of £3.4million by 2023-24.

Councillor Martin Tod, newly appointed cabinet member for service quality and transformation, said it was important the Conservatives were not allowed to "rewrite history" over their financial management of the council.

He said given a £7million shortfall to address in their medium term financial plan in February, the Tory administration found just £1million of potential savings.

"We thought it was important the council came clean about the scale of the problem and came clean about some of the choices and options that we might need to take and that is a very important point about this paper," said Cllr Tod.

He added: "This is a consultation paper, this is not meant to show the results of consultation that will come later in the process. What we are doing here is putting forward the options, precisely so can local residents and businesses can highlight which of these difficult choices they think will be particularly damaging."