CITY centre traders today said a free parking scheme for Festival time would provide a major boost for business in the wake of the tram works.
The city council has announced parking in the centre of the Capital is to be free from 5pm during the festivals season in a drive to support businesses and keep the area thriving over the summer.
But the move came under fire from the Greens for encouraging more congestion in the city centre.
The “Alive after 5” scheme, run in partnership with Marketing Edinburgh and Essential Edinburgh, will also see many shops extending their opening hours until 7pm.
It will run from August 6 until September 1 and could be repeated during December for the winter festivals. Graham Birse of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce said the initiative would give a welcome boost to city-centre shops hit by the trams project. He said: “This is an important gesture from the council – indeed, it’s more than a gesture because it will cost the council money in lost parking revenue.
“It says to traders, especially those in the front line of the tram works, that their difficulties are recognised.”
He said the free parking could help reduce congestion by encouraging people working in the city centre to stay around rather than jump in their cars to head home.
“Locals and visitors will be able to relax after 5pm about leaving their vehicles and enjoy the festival and some retail recreation.”
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association, also welcomed the parking initiative.
“We have been asking for some flexibility in parking tariffs in the city centre for a long time,” he said. “This is a small step in the right direction.” He said the council needed to take a wider look at its parking and pricing policy and move towards levelling the playing field with out-of-town developments, which already enjoyed free parking.
However, Steve Burgess, leader of the Green group on the city council, criticised the initiative.
He said: “Encouraging yet more cars onto city centre streets already constrained by tram works and busy with Festival traffic will increase congestion and could actually have the opposite effect on businesses.
“If the aim is to encourage people to linger in the centre after work then the council should be looking to create a pleasant city centre environment, not streets clogged with traffic.”
He suggested one alternative would be to offer discounts on park-and-ride bus journeys later in the evening.
And he added: “In the longer term Greens have proposed further pedestrianisation of the city centre to create a more attractive people-friendly environment.” Dave du Feu, of cycle campaign group Spokes, was also sceptical. He said: “This is going to come into force at 5pm – but that’s the rush hour. It doesn’t seem sensible to add to congestion when people who are shopping late are probably using the bus anyway.”
Transport convener Lesley Hinds said free parking was part of a package to encourage shops to stay open into the evening.
She said: “The traders have suffered over the last couple of years. They said this would help them and we are responding to that.”
She said similar initiatives had worked well in other cities, boosting footfall by as much as 20 per cent.