COUNCILLORS will next week be asked to approve controversial parking charges at some of Lothian’s most popular beaches despite fierce opposition to the move.
Officials at East Lothian Council are recommending a £2 fee should be introduced at ten of the county’s 13 coastal car parks despite a storm of protest when the plans emerged in the summer.
If the proposal is agreed, it is expected to provoke a furious backlash from local businesses and the public.
A report by the council’s landscape and countryside manager Maree Johnston will be debated by the full council on Tuesday.
It reveals that despite earlier claims the scheme would rake in £1 million for investment in coastal regeneration, the charges are only expected to raise an average of £440,000 a year.
It also reveals it will cost £700,000 over two years to introduce the ticket machine and barriers. The report concedes the fees would lead to an initial drop in visitor numbers, but predicts a “prompt recovery” afterwards.
Under the proposals, the charges _ a flat £2 fee or a £40 season ticket – would apply to the car parks at Longniddry Bents Nos 1, 2 and 3; Gullane Bents; Yellowcraig; Linkfield; Shore Road; Tyninghame Links; Whitesands; and Barnsness. Three others – Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve, Skateraw and Thorntonloch – would not be affected.
An Evening News petition against the charges, Keep our Beaches Free, has been signed by more than 500 people, while more than 880 have signed the Against East Lothian Coastal Car Park Charges petition online.
Despite this opposition, however, the move looks likely to be passed thanks to support from Tory and independent councillors.
SNP councillor Stuart Currie said: “People are going to be horrified at this decision. They haven’t consulted anyone.
“Labour think the hoo-ha will die away because it’s being put through around Christmas, but I think they’re going to a bit deluded by that. Tourism provides one in five jobs in East Lothian and anything that might have an impact on that is a real setback – they’ve admitted it’s going to affect visitor numbers.”
It is proposed that the parking charges apply daily from 8am to 6.30pm, April to September and 8am to 4pm, October to March.
Annual season ticket holders would be able to visit all coastal car parks for a £40, while Blue Badge holders go free.
Cllr Currie added: “So much for the £1m profit. I think £440,000 is a bit optimistic and it’s going to cost £700,000 just to put in the machines.”
He added public reaction to the plans could lead to a public inquiry,.
Malcolm Duck, owner of The Ducks Restaurant at Aberlady, said: “It’s really disappointing. There’s been no discussion with us and no consultation with the tourism industry.”
Liz Cunningham, a pensioner from Musselburgh who signed the Evening News petition, said she was “shocked” at the proposals. “I’m retired and walk my dog down the beach at Longniddry Bents as well as Gullane and North Berwick. This would cost me about £6 per day.”
A bid to introduce coastal car parking charges was first put forward by Labour when it was in power in 2007, but was scrapped by the last SNP/Lib Dem coalition the following year.
No-one from the Labour group was available for comment.
The affected beaches
• Longniddry Bents No.1
• Longniddry Bents No.2
• Longniddry Bents No.3
• Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve
• Gullane Bents
• Dunbar Linkfield
• Shore Road, Belhaven
• Tyninghame Links
• Barns Ness