Hundreds of campaigners today braved the cold by gathering in Richmond Park to protest against parking charges.

The demonstration sent a clear message to Culture Minister Margaret Hodge, as the crowd shouted in unison: "Keep our parks free."

The huge turnout forced police officers to close off a packed Pembroke Lodge car park - meaning many passionate protestors had to find alternative parking and walk to join the rally.

Stewards claimed the turnout could have been close to 1,000.

Although campaigners were told by officials on arrival that they were not allowed to wave banners or placards, many ignored the request.

It was a clear sign of defiance against the Government's decision to allow Royal Parks to charge up to £1 an hour to park in Richmond and Bushy parks.

Politicians addressed the masses in front of a giant banner, on which demonstrators signed their names in support of the protest. It is to be taken to Downing Street at a later date to drum home the message that the charges are not popular.

Rally organiser and parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, said: "I think the parking chaos that we have caused here today is just a fraction of what is to come.

"There are so many people here today - and there are still more coming. It proves what an incredible misjudgement the parks’ authority has made.

"Richmond Park, and Bushy Park as well, is an oasis in this capital. The one thing that will change that is the presence of parking wardens."

Richmond Park MP Susan Kramer and Putney MP Justine Greening said they had met Margaret Hodge on more than one occasion to press home the case for not introducing charges in the parks.

Ms Kramer said: “She is a person who seems to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

She said she found it “absolutely appalling” that people could be charged to come and relax and enjoy the park.

And she added that she and Twickenham MP Vince Cable would use every power they had to get the charges overturned and urged people to write to Ms Hodge opposing the charges.

Dr Cable, whose constituency includes Bushy Park, was critical of the Royal Parks describing it is an "arrogant unelected quango". He said: "It is not just that it is breaching a principle but it completely rejected any practical alternatives.

“They took absolutely no notice of people’s views.”

“This battle is not over.”

He said the parking charges could still be stopped because they did not yet have parliamentary approval and because opposition parties were “absolutely committed to repealing this”.

He added: “If you keep up the pressure and we keep up the pressure this ridiculous measure can be stopped.”

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