Beach parking: Tories to shore up fees folly

THE men and women who plan to foist a £2 charge on parking at some of East Lothian’s finest beaches have been revealed.

Every East Lothian councillor has been asked by the Evening News to state their position on the contentious plan.

And despite officials 
admitting it would raise only a third of the suggested £900,000 annual income, it appears the Labour group initiative will be passed thanks to support from Tories Ludovic Broun-Lindsay and Tim Day, plus independent councillor John Caldwell.

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The local authority’s nine SNP councillors have all come out in opposition to the plan.

While only six Labour councillors confirmed they planned to vote in favour of the proposal, it is thought that the ten-strong Labour group will vote as a block.

This will mean SNP efforts to block the proposal will prove fruitless, despite drawing the support of Conservative councillor Michael Veitch.

Based on such figures the controversial plan to charge for the 3119 parking spaces available at the region’s beaches will be passed by 13 votes to ten when it appears before council later this month.

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An exact date for the vote has yet to be set, with officials still completing a final report into the plans, and those councillors set to vote in favour – or to reveal their hand – are expected to come under pressure from campaigners concerned about the economic impact the charge could have on the local area.

Hundreds of people have added their voices to the Evening News campaign to keep parking free, with many feeling that the introduction of charges would threaten East Lothian’s status as a tourist destination.

Pensioners’ groups have also hit out at the plans, claiming that the elderly and infirm will be worst hit if the fees go ahead.

Last week, the council revealed that the scheme would raise far less than originally expected.

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Council leader Willie Innes had previously stated that the charge would raise almost 
£1 million. However, the council has admitted that the estimated income would in fact be just £331,452 per year, after taking into account the cost of signage, implementation, the number of estimated season ticket holders, people parking outwith charging hours and the percentage of cars parking without paying.

SNP opposition leader Paul McLennan, whose party considered the plan itself when in power four years ago, feels even the figure of £331,452 is generous, instead believing a figure of £100,000 a year to be nearer the mark.

He said: “This charging proposal is facing mounting opposition, has no business case and will harm tourists and residents alike.

“The administration are all over the place on the issue, with differing views on the charges required, the amount it would raise and what the monies would be used for.”

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He was joined in this view by SNP councillor David Berry, who said: “If there is support for this initiative locally then I can’t find it. It’s a half-baked idea that is nowhere near ready for implementation.”

What has proved crucial to the Labour group’s plans to implement the proposal has been the support from Tory and independent councillors.

Explaining his reasons for backing the plans, Cllr Broun-Lindsay, who represents Haddington and Lammermuir, said: “Let’s remember that East Lothian Council used to once charge for beach parking.

“Beaches need maintenance and at present this is paid for from the council’s main budget, competing against schools and elderly care. All money raised by this proposal will be spent on maintaining and developing beaches, which will help to free up other funds.”

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He was joined in backing the plan by Labour councillor Norman Hampshire, who said: “The council’s finances are not in good shape and we are going to have to make severe cuts within the budget, and coastal areas will suffer with these cuts.

“If we are going to protect the investment in our coastal areas then we have to find an alternative source of income.”

East Lothian’s two biggest beaches, Gullane and Yellowcraigs, with 650 and 800 spaces respectively, did once charge £1.30 for parking in summer months.

However, the income generated suggested even a higher fee charged at all of the council’s car parks would not get close to meeting the £900,000 figure recently touted by Labour.

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Steven Brown, SNP councillor for Preston, Seton and Gosford, believes the plan is less to do with coastal maintenance and more to do with funding various other Labour projects.

He said: “[Labour] have come into power with a load of promises and found they will have to raise millions to fund them.

“This has almost nothing to do with coastal development but is a money-raising scheme.”