THE problem of parking in a village centre should be sorted before plans are implemented to attract more tourists to the area.

That was the message from an Overton parish councillor concerned about proposals to try and bring those visiting the Bombay Sapphire gin factory into the village.

The distillery, at Laverstoke Mill, is set to open later this year and will bring thousands of people through Overton on their way to the site.

Overton Business Association (OBA) has proposed to create a heritage trail about the famous north Hampshire novelist Jane Austen, who went shopping in Overton when she lived in Steventon.

But Cllr Lucy Sloane Williams said: “I understand the passion that you want to do the Jane Austen walks but if you don't resolve the parking before you start promoting many more vehicles coming in we aren't going to be popular with the rest of the community.”

Council chairman Tom Ridler agreed, adding: “We have got to do something about the parking before we invite more people to come in.”

Overton Borough Councillor Ian Tilbury questioned the strength of the link between Jane Austen and the village.

He added: “I don't see that Overton has got a connection to Jane Austen. The fact she came shopping here is a bit of a tenuous link.”

Cllr Peter Baker, who is a member of OBA, defended the plans and pointed out that Austen visited the village on many occasions, which had been documented.

He also added that her brother was curate at St Mary's Church and lived at Court Farm, in Overton.

Councillors discussed ways of solving the parking issues in the village.

Suggestions included installing lighting at the long stay car park to encourage more people to park there rather than in the centre, and to install better signing directing people to this car park.

It was also suggested that time restrictions could be used for parking in the village centre, to prevent shop workers leaving their cars there for the entire day and preventing customers using the spaces.

Cllr Baker said: “We don’t want to be caught with our trousers round our ankles. We really have to get a grip on this and to look at how we can improve our car parking."

But Cllr Ridler said that, in the past, when the council had tried to ease the problems with parking, villagers had been against the plans.

He added: “A lot of work had been done by people which came to nothing because of the objections from local people. Somehow we have to get the community involved in what the solutions might be.”

Villagers will be invited to give their views at an annual parish meeting.