Paid-for parking in towns across Northern Ireland could bring the High Street "to its knees", it has been claimed.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) spoke out following proposals from the Department of Regional Development that could see up to 30 areas imposing parking fees by next year.
The FSB has reacted angrily to the proposal, saying it will target shoppers, employees and traders.
Roger Pollen, FSB Head of External Affairs, said that the High Street "is currently in a very precarious position".
"The financial downturn, growing unemployment, rising fuel costs and VAT increase have all taken their toll on economic activity and this move will be yet another hurdle for traders and shoppers in Northern Ireland to overcome," he said.
"We need to be encouraging shoppers back into our town centres but this will force them to out of town developments where parking is often free and this will hit small indigenous businesses hard at a time when they need all the support they can get. Shoppers and motorists are increasingly becoming the 'soft option' for many departments in their attempts to raise revenue."