An MP has hit out at a council’s “rip-off” car parking charges, which he claims are illegal.

High car parking charges are detracting shoppers and preventing the regeneration of Stevenage town centre, claims Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland.

Mr McPartland raised the issue in Parliament on Monday, asking for help in protecting people from Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) overcharging for car parking.

He said: “Stevenage Borough Council is ripping off local people by taking more than £3million a year in car parking charges, which is preventing the regeneration of Stevenage town centre.”

He explained that the High Court ruled earlier this year that a council in north London was behaving illegally because it was using revenue from car parking and fines to fund other non-related services.

Mr McPartland said: “I have access to an email from a SBC officer which clearly states that ‘Stevenage’s car park income does generate a surplus and this is used to support other council services and balance the council’s budget.’

“What is shocking is that this surplus is over a million pounds, and I believe much higher in fact, as Stevenage Borough Council claims it costs them almost £2m to maintain the car parks, which no one believes.

“SBC is taking over £3m out of the pockets of local people and using the surplus illegally.

“The Portas Review [an independent review carried out in 2011 into the future of the country’s high streets] clearly showed that car parking charges were the biggest barrier to the regeneration of our town centres.”

Mr McPartland is calling on SBC to apologise and to introduce three hours free parking so more people can afford to shop locally.

“We can get a refurbished town centre if Stevenage Borough Council stops ripping off local people,” he said.

When John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) spoke at Hertfordshire FSB’s annual general meeting earlier this month, he said car parking charges are a serious problem.

“Local councils ought to wake up and smell the coffee,” he said. “They give us the impression they are herding people into free car parking spaces at places such as large supermarkets and other companies that work in that area and they are penalising people who like to shop with local traders. We are not on a level playing field.”

A spokesman for Stevenage Borough Council said: “The information Mr McPartland has given Parliament is not correct. If he would like the correct information, we will be happy to provide it for him.”