Rev Ian Gilmour: Praying for change over parking fees

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In an open letter to Lesley Hinds, Rev Ian Gilmour rejects plans to charge for parking on evenings and Sunday mornings

Your article in the Evening News on August 24 made the following points to which I wish to respond having listened to city centre residents, the George Street Association and the Church community.

1. What we want to do is make Edinburgh a better place to live in, work in and visit.

We all agree with this, but the issue is whether these proposals help to achieve this worthy goal. The people I have spoken with to see these proposals as being financially driven by a council hugely strapped for cash and not with the long term benefit of the city in mind.

2. People driving into the city to visit shops and restaurants come up against increasing parking 

This is seen as being overstated in terms of evenings, except for Saturday nights and Sundays, but these charges will affect the whole week with shops and restaurants negatively affected. Traders are concerned that more people will shop online or go to malls with free parking, while restaurateurs worry their businesses will lose out.

3. You did survey almost 5000 drivers on various routes on Sundays.

You did so because you know Edinburgh businesses need parking to make it function well for all potential users – pedestrians, cyclists plus drivers. The council pays lip service to hopes of a greener city with fewer cars but has agreed 1800 parking bays for the new St James Centre development, so the “eco” rhetoric seems shallow.

4. Changes to restrictions might just make people stop and think: “Do I need to take the car?”

Lothian Buses does indeed offer a superb public transport system in Edinburgh, reaching to every corner of the city. However, it is severely curtailed in evenings and on Sundays and I am informed that bus services will not be increased if these unwanted parking charges are introduced.

Many of those who attend city centre churches of all denominations on Sundays find they are dependent on using their own cars or getting lifts due to the restricted bus services. Many of the members of these city centre congregations travel a distance to attend church. Drivers would no longer be able to park on single yellow lines, some elderly people do not qualify for a disabled badge but find a lengthy walk difficult. The future survival of these congregations depends on members coming from far and wide.

These congregations, including two cathedrals, add considerable value to the life of the city in terms of accommodating many supportive groups, venues for concerts and cultural events, support of the homeless through night shelters and food provision as well as worshipping communities. These resources would be lost to the city if these congregations became unviable or their members withdrew their support.

I ask the council to reconsider its proposals, which would affect a great many business, individuals and families and have untold effects on the social and cultural welfare of our city centre as congregations’ existence could be threatened.

To ensure Edinburgh is a better place to live in, work in and visit it needs to function so that residents, business and churches flourish. I suggest a complete cancellation of the evening parking proposal and the introduction of parking charges on Sundays from 1pm to allow for rotation of spaces.

• Ian Gilmour, is minister at St Andrew’s and St George’s West and chair of Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together