MOTORISTS are facing parking price hikes at the meter and outside their own homes as cash-strapped finance chiefs aim to squeeze an extra £2 million from Capital drivers over the next four years.
Prices at pay and display meters are set to rise by 20p – pushing city centre rates to £3.20 per hour – while parking permits across the city centre would climb by ten per cent across the board.
The soaring costs come just six months after the city raised parking permits by five per cent and against a backdrop of year-on-year increases at the meter.
Parking permits for a gas-guzzling vehicle in the highest band will climb from £463 to £526 per year.
Today, driver groups said motorists were shouldering the brunt of sweeping cost-cuttings to the city budget and claimed price hikes would lead to a spate of illegal parking.
But finance chiefs insist the extra revenue generated will help protect frontline services such as elderly support and education as the city strives to make £120m of savings by 2018. It is thought the new resident permit charges will boost city coffers by around £200,000 per year. The total sum raised from both increases should net an additional annual income of £585,000.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds accepted the new charges would be contentious but stressed the department was already set to cut staffing costs by £100,000 next year.
She said: “Any increase in charges are controversial because nobody wants to pay any more. But we are putting on the minimum increase possible in terms of pay and display.”
“The council is adding 20p to the cost of parking per hour, based on this being the smallest coin the machines are calibrated for.
“It’s about finding income that in the end goes back into supporting transport instead of us having to find another £500,000 saving,” Cllr Hinds added. “If we didn’t do this we would have to cut £500,000 from the transport budget.”
The transport chief said a key pledge has been to increase sustainable travel and reduce the number of vehicles travelling into the city centre. She said: “I think there is a balance to be struck between encouraging people into the city centre using public transport and other different modes of travel.
“If you want to park for a certain period of time then we shouldn’t make prices so high that they prevent people from parking there.”
In 2011-2012, the council generated income worth £11,129,031 from pay and display machines, £2,222,474 from RingGo (debit card payments through mobile phone) and £1,937,295 from resident permits.
Cllr Gavin Corbett, finance spokesman for Edinburgh Greens, welcomed the increased car parking charges, saying they will send people on to buses and the trams.
He said: “I’m pleased to see the Capital Coalition coming round to the idea of raising more income from car parking, something the Greens had in our budget last year.
“The important thing, though, is that it is part of a package which re-balances our city centre and local high streets towards pedestrians and is not seen only as a source of income.”
But retailers and motoring groups railed against the plans.
While many accepted a 20p parking increase was unlikely to affect trade, many questioned where it stops – and what else could go up on the back of it.
Tim Shallcross, from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, questioned what benefits drivers could expect for forking out on hiked-up parking prices.
He said: “Every time you increase parking charges you end up with more people parking illegally and taking a chance as they think it might outweigh the cost, so you end up with more people causing disruptions and higher parking fines.
“The element of charging people for parking outside their own homes leads to questions like, ‘what is the council now going to start doing when I can’t park outside my own house because someone else is parked there?” And he added: “The motorists of Edinburgh need to start asking what it is they are getting for these extra charges. Are they getting better parking facilities in town? Are they getting better protection from vandals when parking their cars outside their homes?
“If you are being asked to pay extra you are entitled to know what it is you’re paying extra for and if it’s purely to pour money into the coffers of Edinburgh to pay for hospitals or whatever, then they need to explain why motorists are being asked to pay this.”
Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the new fees “would not be popular” but admitted they were unlikely to dramatically harm recovering trade. He said: “It’s an old story, as soon as the trams are open and the city centre is starting to entice people back in, the council hammers them with new charges and makes it more expensive to come into the town.
“I understand it’s going to be needed but the council seems to be continuing to be anti-car.”
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said he expected the planned rises – that will be discussed and challenged ahead of a finance approval meeting in February – but insisted shoppers needed to feel “welcome” in the heart of the Capital. He said: “Obviously we know the council is short of money and had anticipated there would be a price increase.
“Our message overall is that we need to continue to make sure people are able to choose which way they come into town and are always made to feel welcome in the city centre rather than having barriers put up to stop them coming in.”
He added: “Some people are prepared to pay for the privilege of parking in close proximity to the shops and so I don’t expect it will make a huge difference.”
We told yesterday how the council is planning to phase out parking meters, replacing them with a city-wide RingGo-style system of electronic payment.