Helen Martin: Parking levy will just drive everyone away

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EDINBURGH’S Labour group already has plans, should it come into power after the local elections in May. One such plan is the introduction of a tax on businesses who provide parking spaces for staff.

They call it a “workplace parking levy” and say the money (possibly just short of £300 for every employee space) would go to transport improvements and congestion reduction. Aye, maybe.

The idea’s not original because it is already in operation in Nottingham, but out of the whole UK, ONLY in Nottingham. There’s a clue.

Now I’m no Alastair Campbell (and thank God for that!) but if Labour really fancies getting back into power, this is about as much of a vote winner as dubbing yourself Fred Goodwin’s best pal (which – come to think of it – many Labour people did . . . for a while).

As usual, our local politicians have dollar signs in their eyes rather than public service in their hearts. It seems as if they still haven’t learned there is no such thing as wealth creation, or in other words, producing money where none existed before. The £100 million a decade – or however much they hope to raise – has to come from somewhere. In the case of this scheme, it would come from many people and businesses who can’t afford it and cause more harm than good.

For a start, many employers provide these spaces on their own land. Some have paid a premium on building costs to have their car parks concealed underground so as to be inoffensive to others. It’s hardly a vote winner to tell them that as soon as a Labour administration gets in, either their investment was wasted and they’d be as well going into the mushroom growing trade, or they’ll have to pay the local authority to use their own car park “within” their own building. Penalising business at the moment is not a good idea.

Then there are problems businesses will have with employees who took the job on condition that free parking was in their contract.

Of course, the ideal situation from the council’s point of view is that more and more people will use the bus, plus the half dozen or so who might find the tram route useful. This is very honourable and green providing they understand that the more people use the bus, the less they use the shops. Parking costs and difficulties are one of the main reasons for the decline of Edinburgh’s retail sector. Any shopper with the IQ of a potted plant or more, heads to out-of-town centres, where parking is free, for big or multiple purchases.

Possibly because they are provided with free parking, councillors seem unaware of the cost and importance of it. It is not just a convenience or a luxury.

Second-hand cars are relatively cheap these days, enabling a lot of people in low-paid jobs to search further afield for work, to earn city wages while living in low-cost housing miles out of the centre; or perhaps to fit a job, sometimes two, in with family commitments – something they couldn’t do if they had to factor in bus timetables and longer journey times – as long as they can park.

Equally, I know people who have turned down perfectly good jobs because they couldn’t think of where to park, not to mention the cost. And I know people who have taken lower paid, lower status jobs out of town where they could park, rather than a higher-paid job in the city, and wound up feeling much better off.

It’s no coincidence that more and more large employers favour sites out of the city.

This permanent war on parking, fuelled by an apparent zeal to see everyone – except councillors – use the bus, has already gone too far and made the city notoriously anti- motorist, anti-retail and now . . . anti-business and anti-employee.

Parking has to be managed. Obstructive parking has to be fined. Congestion is a serious worry, but anyone in the city knows that what has caused most congestion recently has been the ill-fated Labour tram scheme and endless lines of buses snarling up the traffic, reducing roads to one lane or, where pavements have been widened, holding up every vehicle behind them.

In order to have a thriving city that people want to live, work and shop in, the council must provide parking and preserve it, and in sufficient, affordable quantity to meet essential needs, while encouraging more people to use better and cheaper public transport. It has to be subtle, diplomatic, strategic, carrot before stick stuff, done with understanding, popular support and intelligence.

Otherwise we might as well have any old council of modest intellect working on punitive taxation and knee-jerk prejudice and gradually driving the citizens away to live, work or shop in more pleasant out of town locations. In which case, we might as well vote Labour.