Controversial parking fees introduced for motorists visiting Epping Forest have been defended by councillors after parking metres were smashed.

The meters and signs have been damaged in the High Beach and Theydon Bois areas since the ruling in May last year. A petition against the fees has been signed by nearly 300 people.

The new fees were put in place at Epping Forest, and at other places in November, by the City of London Corporation, which runs the forest.

A report by the corporation said members of the public were largely against the fees, which has led to payment meters and information signs being vandalised.

Despite this, members of the corporation have backed the fees, saying they were needed to pay for car park maintenance.

Councilman Graeme Doshi-Smith said: "I know it isn’t popular and we’d rather we didn’t have to charge for it but we are living in the world we’re living in in terms of costs and  having to recoup those costs in various ways."

He said officers were preparing a report by May, which will further assess the success of the project.

He added: "If we need to make adjustments, we’ll make that decision with the right information in front of us."

The charges were introduced in a move to make money for car park maintenance and encourage more people to use their cars less.

Verderer [judicial officer of a royal forest] Paul Morris said there had been issues with parking wardens not wearing uniform and machines not working.

He added: "I’ve got some major concerns. We’ve had machines broken since November – to me, it’s not being done professionally.

"Not all car parks at the moment are operational, we haven’t got the correct signage up, machines have been damaged… there’s so many issues here that we’re just going ‘Oh well, we’re earning money,’ but it could be if we’ve got this wrong we could be refunding a hell of a lot of money on tickets."

The corporation first introduced fees at some car parks in Epping Forest in Spring 2021 followed by more from mid-November, including Broadstrood, Earl’s Path, and Strawberry Hill.

The new charges range from £1.50 for less than an hour to £6.00 a day and there is an annual pass available for £150.

There are around 50 car parks at the forest in total.

The corporation will decide whether to introduce fees at the rest of the forest’s car parks in May 2022.