East Lothian flies solo to profit from parking fees

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EAST Lothian is set to become the only council in Scotland to profit from visitors to its beaches if controversial parking charges go ahead.

The Evening News contacted all the local authorities around the coast to find out whether they made visitors pay for parking at their beaches.

Only two levy a charge of any kind and in both instances it is imposed at a single beach where there are exceptional circumstances.

At Aberdour Silversands in Fife, a charge is applied on busy days during the summer in order to control parking. The car park is operated by a private firm on behalf of the council.

Aberdeenshire Council operates a pay-and-display car park at Balmedie Country Park, but a beach is only one of the attractions there.

The Forestry Commission does charge for parking at three Scottish beaches where it maintains nature reserves – Tentsmuir in Fife, Roseisle in Moray and an inland beach at Loch Morlich in the Highlands.

Critics today said the fact that no other councils levied parking charges at the beach underlined the folly of the plan.

SNP opposition group leader Paul McLennan said the charge would hit tourism, East Lothian’s biggest industry.

He said: “If other councils with large coastal areas had thought such a charge was a practical option and would not impact on tourism, they would have looked at it – but they haven’t.”

Fiona Duncan, manager of the Maitlandfield House Hotel in Haddington, said: “It will push people away and they will go somewhere they don’t have to pay. It’s such a shame. We want to attract tourists to the area and it will be such a deterrent.

“Everyone is struggling to get people to come to the area and be friendly to tourists and now we’re going to charge them £2 to park their car and go for a walk. It’s just outrageous.”

But East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray accused the council’s previous SNP- Liberal Democrat administration of letting the car parks fall into disrepair and said charges were “probably unavoidable”. He said: “I love East Lothian’s beaches, the best in Scotland as far as I am concerned, and like everyone else I would rather not have to pay to park at them. But the truth is that the facilities at the car parks need maintained and upgraded, and with the council’s budget being squeezed it is reasonable for the council to consider a small charge.

“When I visit Edinburgh to shop or go to the theatre, I pay £2.80 to park for an hour, so it does not seem unreasonable to ask visitors to our beaches for £2 for a whole day.

“If the facilities are not up to scratch, or the beaches’ beauty is spoiled by litter, then that really will not encourage visitors to come back.”

He added that Seacliff, a private beach in East Lothian, had levied a small charge for parking for many years without deterring visitors.