MOTORISTS face being slapped with Sunday parking fees for the first time under controversial plans to boost trade and enhance Sabbath bus services.
With the increased popularity of Sunday shopping, a city transport review has suggested charging for on-street parking at designated spots to deter “bay blockers” from abandoning vehicles over long periods and improve “turnover” of parking spaces.
Parking revenue raised on Sundays would then be funnelled towards Lothian Buses to introduce an enhanced service – without the need for subsidies.
But business chiefs have branded the plans a “backward step” that would stifle growth, while a kirk minister said the move could spark protests among disabled and elderly congregations.
Gordon Henderson, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses Edinburgh, said the plans were “disappointing”.
“This council, like all councils, are having to find cuts from their budget. If you can find additional revenue you will make that attempt,” he said.
Charges for on-street parking were first introduced in 1973 – with an “inner zone” enveloping the immediate city centre and an “outer zone” – but restrictions have always been relaxed on Sundays.
Now the city will decide whether to reverse this precedent to keep in step with an evolving consumer landscape.
The strategy review, spearheaded by Mark Turley, director of Services for Communities, argues that “most parking restrictions in Edinburgh date bate to before Sunday trading became widespread; today the city centre retailing operates on Sundays as much as it does on other days of the week”.
Introducing Sunday parking controls, it says, would be “likely to help bus operations” with money from fees being invested in bus links.
The Sunday parking plan has been slammed by men of the cloth.
Reverend Ian Gilmour of St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, on George Street, said it was “surprising” transport chiefs “would try to find ways to stop people gathering”.
He said: “It would sorely affect congregations here if there was parking charges.
“In our church there are elderly people and people with disabilities who can’t come by bus – an additional levy would be a disadvantage to worship.
“Of course as a Reverend, I think worship is very important and I would be surprised if there weren’t protests against this.”
And he added: “It’s not good for the city and not the way to answer a huge hole in the budget. I can’t imagine Sunday mornings are going to be the way to raise money to plug a hole in the budget.”
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh – the business group which manages the city centre – said Sunday parking charges would “potentially slow down” trade for a day that had seen growth and force shoppers out of town.
He said: “As a proportion of the trading week, Sunday has really been increasing and one of the drivers for that is free parking.
“The city centre is very much under pressure from internet shopping and there is also the risk that more and more shoppers will be pushed out to the out-of-town shopping centres.”
But transport convenor, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said the plan was part of a draft strategy that would be offered up for public consultation.
She said: “If we find that there is an appetite for looking at some kind of parking controls on Sundays, there’s still a lot of work to be done to look at how this would be implemented.
“We’d also need to evaluate the current parking patterns to see how parking bays are being used on Sundays. As with all parking restrictions, the aim is to keep traffic moving smoothly across the city and ensure that stationary vehicles aren’t causing an obstruction or safety risk to other road users.”
Cllr Nigel Bagshaw, transport spokesperson for Edinburgh’s Scottish Greens, said Sunday parking charges should be explored.
“In trading terms, Sunday is pretty much like Saturday is now, so it is hard to see why parking should remain free in the city centre on Sundays,” he said. “Indeed, free parking may clog up spaces where turnover is best for business.”
But several traders and business leaders suggested the charges were a backdoor revenue-raising vehicle to plug holes in the council’s finances.
Echoing this view, Graham Birse, of Edinburgh Napier Business School, said it was “as much about solving the council’s budget deficit as it is about saving the retail life of the city centre”.
Josh Miller, joint managing director of Charlie Miller Hairdressers and chair of the George Street Association, said there were economic benefits to be “squeezed” from the plan, but it served to highlight the wholesale lack of parking bays in the city centre.
A year-long process of consultation will be undertaken before the draft strategy is adopted in December 2013.
RULES AND REGULATIONS
PARKING charges were first introduced into the Capital in 1973 and enforced by Lothian and Borders Police for more than 20 years.
In 1998, the city council began enforcing restrictions – but Sundays always remained exempt – and no charges were enforced for bay parking.
Motorists have greater licence to park in designated bays and on single yellow lines on a Sunday – but double yellows, disabled spaces and diplomatic bays are still enforced.
In 2011-2012, the council generated income worth £11,129,031.87 from pay and display machines, £2,222,474.25 from RingGo and £1,937,295.51 from residents’ permits.
ONLINE SHOPPING ALREADY TAKING A TOLL
Graham Birse, of Edinburgh Napier Business School, said: “My initial thoughts are that this is as much about solving the council’s budget deficit as it is about saving the retail life of the city centre.
“It’s difficult to see how a state of affairs where free parking has been available for years – as opposed to charging – would lead to more footfall.
“It remains to be proven that the options the council are putting forward will benefit footfall. Most of the retailers will want to be convinced of that before anything is introduced.
“It’s important for the business community that indirect taxation doesn’t affect town centres. The convenience of online shopping and low-tax model of large retail offices on the outskirts is already having a great affect on town centres.”