THE cost of parking in the city centre is to rise by 20p an hour as part of a series of inflation-busting price increases approved by councillors.
Motorists will now pay up to £3 per hour for parking in the heart of the Capital in a move estimated to bring in an extra £340,000.
A full council meeting also gave the go-ahead for the introduction of a controversial 30p charge at public toilets in the city centre despite protests from opposition parties.
Other fees and charges going up by more than the current 2.7 per cent rate of inflation include venue hire, allotment rentals, licence fees, burial and cremation charges, registrar’s fees, and admission to the Scott Monument, which goes up from £3 to £4.
The council’s budget – which freezes the council tax for another year – includes £28.5 million of new investment despite straitened economic times.
Funding cuts from central government mean the council must find £95m in savings over the next five years, although only £3.8m of that had to be found for this next financial year. The new spending, mostly financed by borrowing, includes £12.5m to mend the Capital’s pot holed roads, £10m for repairs to crumbling schools, £4m for a new care home and £2m for parks, sports pitches and pavilions.
Savings are due to come from better procurement arrangements and spending reductions in departments previously earmarked for privatisation.
Finance convener Alasdair Rankin said the council would no longer impose the same level of cuts from all departments. “We have abandoned salami slicing as an approach,” he said. Officials would be asked to justify each area of spending, explain why it was necessary and show it was efficient. “That approach will shape the budget at all levels within the council,” said Councillor Rankin.
The increase in parking charges, which come into effect on April 1, will see the cost of pay-and-display parking in George Street, St Andrew Square, Charlotte Square, Queen Street, Market Street and Cockburn Street go up from £2.80 per hour to £3.
Charges for the Stafford Street and Melville Street area, Morrison Street to Shandwick Place and the Old Town will rise from £2.20 to £2.40 and for the New Town, from Northumberland Street to St Stephen Street, from £1.80 to £2.
Residential parking permits will also cost more. A 12-month permit for a car with an engine size between 1001cc and 1800cc in the central zone will increase from £154 to £161.50 and in all other zones from £77 to £81.
Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “There is no problem with increases along with inflation but for a big increase like this you have to ask what extra facilities or services drivers are getting for this extra cost. Very few people can afford to drive in and park in the city centre as it is, but this will put off more people, especially shoppers and tourists, which is bad news for everyone, especially given the current state of the high street.”
Transport convener Lesley Hinds said the parking charge increases – which will be responsible for the estimated £340,000 – had been included in the base budget by the previous administration.
She said the current coalition had decided against increasing the charges even more, but had budgeted for another £325,000 from better management of parking spaces, including the reinstatement of spaces currently out of use because of tram works.
She said: “We accepted what had been put in the budget already, but we have not made any further increase.”
Burial and cremation charges are also going up by well above inflation. The cost of an adult interment will increase from £920 to £957 and an adult cremation from £619 to £644. Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “It’s unbelievable that even when you’re dead you can’t escape the clutches of the local authority.
“Hiking funeral charges is adding pressure on families dealing with bereavement and is a shameless way of councils raising money.
“Town halls need to focus on making long-term savings as tax- payers pay enough tax when they are alive without forking out more just to rest in peace.”
Venue hire increases will mean charities and amateur groups using the Church Hill Theatre for an evening performance will pay £263 instead of £255. And the cost of taking the Assembly Rooms’ Music Hall for the evening will go up from £1800 to £2025.
Tommy Sheppard, managing director of the Stand Comedy Club, who also programmes shows at the Assembly Rooms during the Festival, said: “I generally don’t use the place for one-night events but if I did this wouldn’t put me off.
“The venue has roughly 700 seats so that breaks down to less than £3 a seat, which is cheaper than hiring, say, the Playhouse or the Festival Theatre. It’s certainly not uncompetitive.”
Visitors to the Scott Monument and the Nelson Monument will be charged £4 instead of £3 from April 1. Marion Williams, director of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association, said: “I have to say I think this is a fair price for entry to the Scott Monument, which will still keep it at an accessible level to people across the city and beyond.
“It’s a spectacular and extremely important monument and hopefully the extra money will help with its upkeep and making sure it is maintained for future generations.”
The plan to introduce a 30p charge for seven city-centre public toilets, revealed by the Evening News earlier this week, was criticised by opposition councillors.
Liberal Democrat Robert Aldridge called for a city-wide review of toilet provision and said the needs of older people, tourists and the night-time economy should all be considered.
Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett said: “Surely Scotland’s capital city can afford to welcome visitors and residents alike without a toilet tax? I do worry that charges will result in a fall in use and eventually a justification for closure of facilities.”
Cllr Rankin said that, taken as a whole, the increases in fees and charges were in line with inflation. He said: “This budget overall is inflation neutral in almost every way. We could have increased charges by more, but we chose not to.”
The budget also included £125,000 for Leith Waterworld to help community group Splashback work towards the reopening of the leisure pool. It will be financed by more efficient use of the council’s insurance fund.
The administration agreed to a Tory call to allocate £200,000 for projects helping older people in the community to stay active. And two Green proposals – £100,000 to help people on benefits maximise their income and £50,000 to restore a planned cut to the home adaptations budget for disabled people – were also accepted.