BUSINESS leaders have warned that new Sunday parking charges will drive shoppers away from the city centre.
Councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of the plans, but insisted the restrictions will not come into play before 12.30pm following opposition from religious groups.
Ministers previously claimed congregations faced a “bleak future” if morning charges got the go-ahead – and warned some churches could even close.
Now businesses and opposition leaders have raised fears afternoon restrictions could impact on footfall and force shoppers out of the Capital’s historic heart.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, said the latest decision represented “the best option for Edinburgh” and would encourage more people to use buses, trams or bicycles.
She said: “There is no doubting that Edinburgh is very much a seven-day city – people shop, eat and socialise here on every day of the week – and we’ve already agreed that, like other major cities, increased parking controls are necessary for reducing disruption.
“Not only will this make parking easier for residents and visitors by increasing parking turnover, but we hope in turn it will encourage more people to choose public transport or active travel over the car by creating safer, free-flowing roads.”
But critics labelled the proposal an “absolute dud” and said there was “simply no escaping” the fact that a recent consultation had shown more than 80 per cent of residents opposed it.
Business expert Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute, said the scheme represented a “false economy”.
He said it risked putting locals off coming into the city centre on Sundays – with residents instead choosing to spend their cash in Livingston, Ocean Terminal or Fort Kinnaird.
He said: “Everybody knows that Edinburgh city centre is free on Sundays for parking. At the same time, all of the shops are open, as well as the attractions.
“It’s the one day of the week that locals from further afield know they can get into the centre of Edinburgh without the normal congestion of commuter traffic, and go about their shopping without having to worry about running back to the car every hour. Now they will [have to worry about that].”
Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, added: “I believe the consultation said businesses were wholly against this, but it’s come in anyway.
“The council needs to keep an eye on how businesses in the city centre are affected. If there’s a dramatic drop-off in footfall, then I would like to see them review this decision.”
He called for a moratorium on further traffic changes while businesses come to terms with the shake-up.
Councillor Nick Cook, Tory transport spokesman, said the charges would “jeopardise” footfall to the city centre, adding: “These charges are bad for society, they’re bad for business and they’re bad for Edinburgh.”
The new restrictions – which will not be introduced until 2018 at the earliest – will see charges of up to £3.50 an hour brought in between 12.30pm and 6.30pm in the city centre.
Councillor Adam McVey, vice-convenor of the transport and environment committee, warned restrictions could be brought in all day in the future.
City chiefs rejected moves to extend evening charges to 7pm at a meeting in March.