Nick Cook: Drivers shouldn’t be treated as cash cow

Edinburgh's pay and display prices could rise by a third. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Edinburgh's pay and display prices could rise by a third. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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Another year. Another set of budget proposals. Another round of inflation-busting price hikes for city 
 motorists.

Edinburgh is the most expensive place in the UK to park outside London. Despite this, motorists are again facing prices hikes of up to 33 per cent for pay and display parking, as well as an increase of five per cent on parking permits. Meanwhile, a consultation is taking place looking at extending charging periods and introducing Sunday charging too.

I believe this is the wrong route. It is as if, in the run up to every budget, Edinburgh motorists cease to be hard-working taxpayers and instead become cash cows for the city council.

In my experience, some city politicians are too keen to demonise drivers, regarding them as a sort of wealthy “gas-guzzling” elite. Most car owners are, of course, far from that. They care about our environment, but need a vehicle out of necessity and often struggle with maintenance costs.

At times, sometimes due to family or work commitments, many have no choice but to “pay and display”’.

I believe people should not be subject to excessive parking fees when collecting their child from an after school activity, attending church on Sunday or visiting the local butcher for ingredients for tonights’ casserole.

Ever increasing parking charges are also bad for businesses big and small.

I am a recently departed board member of Marketing Edinburgh Ltd – the body behind the hugely successful This Is Edinburgh campaign, which boosted city centre foot fall greatly after years of disruptive tram works.

At this crucial time in our economic recovery, it would be regrettable if the council were to repeat its annual raid on car owners, hindering rather than helping efforts to encourage people into town.

Key local shopping areas such as Stockbridge and Bruntsfield would also be hit by the proposed increased tariff and it would be more regrettable still to see smaller local traders suffer at the hands of the council’s anti-car agenda.

In the run-up to 2015-16 council budget meeting, I challenged the council leader to deny his administration was waging a “war on the motorist”. He refused.

It isn’t difficult to see why. Not only has the council made Edinburgh parking some of the priciest in the country, but their annual hikes in parking permit costs also mean that – inclusive of current proposals – the cost of a permit in Edinburgh will have risen 40 per cent in six years.

Should we be encouraging a broad range of transport methods across Edinburgh? Absolutely.

But these price hikes aren’t being driven by a green agenda. The council needs to save money. And motorists are seen as an easy target for raising revenue.

Enough with the quick money-­making fixes.

It is long past time the council administration objectively considered new, more efficient ways of doing things. If the private or voluntary sectors can provide services better and cheaper they should be given the chance. High level, strategic change is needed. Fast.

The council simply can’t afford to park the issue any longer.

Nick Cook is the Scottish Conservative transport spokesman on Edinburgh City Council and a Lothians candidate for the May 2016 Holyrood elections.