Beach parking charges: £1m figure ‘a finger in the air job’

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CLAIMS that car parking charges at East Lothian beaches would raise almost £1 million were rubbished today as it emerged a previous study estimated revenue at just one-third of that figure.

Critics branded the projected income as “totally unrealistic” and even suggested it could end up making a loss.

A consultation carried out in 2008 calculated the income from introducing a parking charge at the 13 beaches owned or managed by the council would bring in £332,922 a year.

It also estimated the annual cost of operating the system at more than £106,000 on top of set-up costs of £15,000 for cash machines and signs.

Following the consultation, the then SNP-Liberal Democrat administration decided to scrap the previous Labour regime’s plans for the parking charges.

Now Labour is back in power in a coalition with the Tories and an independent, the party has revived the proposal.

East Lothian SNP group leader Paul McLennan said: “Saying this will raise £1m is totally unrealistic. It’s a finger in the air job.

“The charge that was looked at back in 2008 was about the same amount and the report said it would raise just over £300,000.

“The calculation was based on the number of visitors, which will be roughly the same now, and if the charge is introduced, it’s likely to fall.

“Costs will have increased since then – staff costs will be higher and inflation will mean other costs have gone up too.

“It could all end up as a loss-making operation.”

Councillor McLennan said Labour’s budget proposal for the council earlier this year had used a figure of £500,000 as projected revenue from a car parking charge. But Labour council leader Willie Innes insisted the £2 per day levy would bring in £900,000.

He also dismissed the study which came up with the previous estimates. He said: “That was done by the last administration. They were looking for a result which they got.”

Cllr Innes said his estimate was based on figures showing there were 450,000 visitors to East Lothian beaches each year.

He claimed the costs previously projected for the scheme could be slashed by using existing staff to enforce the charges.

The 2008 report said three “car park enforcers” with protective clothing, mobile phones and vans, collecting and banking the cash would cost £106,613. But Cllr Innes said: “We are doing an evaluation to see if we can do it within the existing staff.

He defended the plan to introduce the charges, saying it would bring in extra cash for coastal services and free up the £500,000 currently spent on these from the overall council budget for other priorities.

He said: “Our costs mean we have to cut existing services or find another source of revenue.

“This is a way to protect wider services in East Lothian.”