CONTROVERSIAL plans for coastal car parking charges in East Lothian will raise just a third of the £900,000 income originally expected, the council has revealed.
Council leader Willie Innes had previously said the £2 charge on parking at all beaches run or owned by the local authority would raise almost £1 million, which would then be ploughed into coastal regeneration.
Now the council has admitted the estimated income which would be generated from coastal car parking charges to be £331,452 per year.
The admission is likely to prove a serious blow to the scheme, which is expected to be voted on at a full council meeting late this month.
Critics of the plan have suggested even the revised figure is overly optimistic, saying £100,000 is more realistic once the costs of installing ticket machines and reorganising road layouts are taken into account.
Today, Cllr Innes defended the £2 charge plans and said he would be asking questions of council officials about the scheme and why it is expected to raise just over a third of his original estimate.
His plans have been dealt a further blow by figures released under a freedom of information response, which showed how much money was brought in at the two East Lothian beaches which previously charged for parking.
Gullane and Yellowcraigs are the two biggest beaches in the area, with 650 and 800 spaces respectively, and a £1.30 charge was imposed between 10am and 5pm or 6pm, depending on the time of year.
Yet their income never came close to meeting targets that would have to be reached to bring in £900,000, which require each of the 3119 spaces at the county’s beach car parks to make around £288 a year.
In their best years, Yellowcraig and Gullane Bents only averaged £25 and £34 per space respectively. Even allowing for the higher charge, the amount raised per space would be £38 and £52 respectively, more than five times less than the required amount.
The FOI request, submitted by an East Lothian resident, also showed that traffic figures have not been recorded at the car parks for more than four years, meaning all calculations are based on out-of-date information.
East Lothian Council said its annual figure of £331,452 was calculated after taking into account a range of factors, such as the number of estimated season ticket holders, people parking outwith charging hours and a percentage of cars parking without paying.
SNP opposition leader Paul McLennan, who branded Cllr Innes’ £900,000 claim “ridiculous”, believes charges at seaside car parks would be lucky to bring in £100,000 a year.
“The £100,000 figure is before additional expenditure to bring in the charge and land owners demanding their share of charging,” he said.
“This charging proposal is facing mounting opposition, has no business case and will harm tourists and residents alike.
“The administration are all over the place on the issue, with differing views on the charges required, the amount it would raise and what the monies would be used for.”
SNP councillor David Berry also hit out at Cllr Innes’ claims.
He said: “I don’t know where Willie Innes got his figures from. When we were in power four years ago, we were quoted a figure of around £400,000 for such a scheme.
“We took the view that there wasn’t much money in it and people were obviously dead against it, so we decided to drop it. If there is support for this initiative locally then I can’t find it. It’s a half-baked idea that is nowhere near ready for implementation.”
A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council said: “We have estimated the income which could be generated from coastal car parking charges at £331,452 per year. It is important to emphasise that this figure has taken into consideration a number of factors, including allowing for a percentage of cars parking without paying, the number of estimated season ticket holders, people parking outwith charging hours etc. A full report will be prepared for council in due course and all elements will be fully considered.”
Cllr Innes said he would be speaking to officials to try to clarify how their estimate was reached, and said he was still behind the idea of a charge.
He said: “I will be asking the question because that is not my understanding of it. I thought it would be more – somewhere between half a million and £900,000.
“There’s only two definites – the number of cars visiting our car parks when we last considered this in 2006-7 was in excess of 450,000 and we know we would charge £2 each, so you get £900,000. But there are variations within it because we will be offering season tickets for people, which will reduce the overall amount.
“Given the financial situation that we are in, £2 is a modest sum of money to enjoy the coastline of East Lothian, which costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to keep in the condition it is. I go into Edinburgh for meetings and it costs me considerably more for a period a lot less and you don’t have a beach.”
He added: “Probably once you start charging for car parking, the proof will be in the pudding. It might be less than £900,000, but we don’t know because it depends on the uptake of season tickets.”
Some people have claimed the introduction of parking charges would threaten East Lothian’s status as a tourist destination. The plans have also come under fire from pensioners’ groups, who claim the elderly and infirm will be the worst hit if the fees go ahead.
Hundreds of people have backed the Evening News campaign to keep parking free.
runs the Coast to Coast Surf School in Dunbar
I DON’T think the £2 charge does any favours for East Lothian at all, and I don’t think it’s going to make as much money as they think it’s going to make. I think there’s a real potential for the council to start off with a certain fee and then raise it
in the future because they’re not making what they actually thought they were going to make.
In some ways the council is putting at risk a potentially good area of tourism for East Lothian, which is the coastal tourism and watersports.
They don’t know if introducing car parking charges will have a negative impact on that, but if it does and it doesn’t produce any revenue, they will have basically shot themselves in the foot.
I don’t know what impact the charges would have on the surf school, which puts a worry in my head.
“If people coming down to the coast to surf started doing it one less time a month or two fewer times a month, and don’t spend money in the local cafe because they have spent it on the car park, that’s where it will hit these cafes and restaurants.