THE voices of 4,011 people were ignored by Newport city council last night after a motion over the issue was voted down.

After heated exchanges between the Tory and Labour benches, ruling members voted almost enmasse - with 32 against and 10 votes for - and only one noteable Labour abstention.

Senior Tory Councillor David Fouweather said the whole issue has been run like a pantomine and compared Newport council leader to Captain Hook.

The motion had called for cabinet member Ken Critchley to reconsider his decision to scrap free parking for the city centre.

The Argus has campaigned to keep parking free and 4,011 have signed our petition against the move.

Labour councillors said with the council facing a shortfall in its budget they have to make "difficult choices".

Council leader Bob Bright said the issue had been blown out of proportion and said the council was doing what it could to support traders. He said the group will look at a voucher scheme and a business investment district.

Cllr Critchley, cabinet member for infrastructure, said the council was facing a shortfall of around £8 million.

Cllr Ray Truman, deputy council leader, said: "We have got to make tough choices. We've got to look after the sick and vulnerable."

Labour Cllr Allan Morris, for Lliswerry ward, said it wasn't an issue to "get our knickers in a twist over" and asked if people, when signing petitions, were being asked if they wanted to cut other services.

Cllr Fouweather told the chamber: "I must admit that this decision must have been run like a pantomime, with the leader of the council like that well-known Panto villain Captain Hook."

The councillor criticised the way the decision was taken after the offer of five hours free parking over Christmas: "Why didn't you be up front in the first place and tell people what you were going to do?

Matthew Evans, Tory leader, said free parking had been a huge success: "No one knows what would have happened if we had not taken this decision."

Labour Councillors Tom Bond and Kate Thomas stuck with their party's position during the meeting and voted against the move despite having expressed earlier concerns.

Rogerstone Councillor Chris Evans, who absatined from voting, said the Labour group had "paid lip service" to his alternative voucher scheme proposal to try and tackle the issue.

Cllr Evans' scheme involved a voucher system which would see people rewarded by having their £1 parking ticket refunded if they spend a certain amount locally.

Addressing the chamber, Cllr Evans, said: "I've met and talked with many traders to listen to their concerns.

"I offered an alternative plan, which the Chamber of Trade and the Argus supported but unfortunately this plan was only paid lip service to.

"I've made the fact that I'm frustrated with the way this whole situation has been dealt with known in our group meeting.

"There seems to be a lack of direction and inability or will to engage."

Cllr Evans went on to say: "I contemplated not attending tonight but I needed to stand up for what I believe in.

"There was an alternative I only wish I could have convinced people to embrace it."

Labour councillor for Gaer, Herbie Thomas, said the council had to stop kidding themselves and that no one shopped in the city centre anymore.

He said: "The town centre is finished. Let's not kid ourselves anymore. People shop differently now."

He asked for a show of hands of those who actually shopped at Newport Market, which received a smattering of support.

He said the reason he still shopped in the city centre was because he didn't drive so took public transport there.