AN “overzealous” parking company responsible for controversial new charges at Bromsgrove’s Artrix theatre has apologised – after dishing out £100 fines days before the charges were due to begin.

The charges – policed by ParkingEye on behalf of Heart of Worcestershire College on the car park it shares with the Artrix on Slideslow Drive – came into force on Monday (September 2).

However, Artrix user Nic Smith contacted the Advertiser after being fined £100 for using the car park for a few minutes last week – five days before the charges were due to start.

HoW College admitted there had been an “error” from the parking company and that all fines issued before September 2 would be cancelled.

Mr Smith said: “Their overzealous parking contractor fined me £100 for using the car park briefly, five days before charging starts!

“Many residents, who stopped in for a coffee last week and to ask about the new parking arrangements will be waking up to demands for £100.

“I posted a warning about this on Facebook and the HoW response was to hide my comment from public view.

“I pity the poor people being impacted by this change and the negative feeling this will generate for Artrix whose hands are tied.”

A college spokesperson said: “The Parking Operator contacted Heart of Worcestershire College on Tuesday (3 Sept) to make us aware that a number of warning letters and penalty notices had been issued in error by themselves in respect of the College car park in Bromsgrove ahead of the introduction of parking charges.

“The operator has instigated an internal investigation and are contacting all individuals affected to offer their apologies. All penalty notices issued prior to September 2 have been cancelled.”

However, the college has told the Advertiser that the parking system will remain payable by smart phone only now charges have begun – despite criticism from Artrix users and the theatre itself.

We reported earlier this week that Artrix director Angela Galvin had described the method as ‘not suitable’.

The charges rise from 40p for half-hour to £5 for five hours or more but it is the ‘pay by phone only’ system that has irked users who say it could alienate older visitors.

Clive and Jackie Lee wrote to the Advertiser to say: “Not everyone has a smartphone and having experienced trying to pay online, it is a joke.

“The Draconian money-making scheme is disgusting and will probably be the death knell for the much-loved Artrix.”

An anonymous reader added: “I don't mind paying to park to support the venue but who on earth decided payment was by phone only!

“We don't all have that facility but we do have cash we can use in a machine.

“This decision is likely to have a very detrimental effect on the Artrix and needs looking at as a matter of urgency. Many of us who frequent the place during the day will simply not be able to pay to park.”

A college spokesperson replied: “We are aware that some users of our car parks, whilst understanding of our reasons for introducing charging, have expressed concerns that there are no cash payment facilities planned.

“Unfortunately because of the considerable cost pressures we operate under we needed to implement a parking management solution that minimised cost and resource implications, and did not divert funding away from our students.

“We did investigate cash pay and display options, unfortunately however these all placed considerable additional burdens and costs upon the College, and we had to reluctantly concede that this was not an option we were able to pursue.

“We do understand and appreciate the concerns raised by those who are less receptive to modern technologies, but unfortunately a Pay & Display solution was unaffordable given our own limited resources.”