Council declares war on drivers in budget

Drivers will be hit hard in the pocket, while cyclists will benefit. Picture: Greg Macvean
Drivers will be hit hard in the pocket, while cyclists will benefit. Picture: Greg Macvean
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MOTORISTS are to be clobbered under swingeing transport budget cuts as public transport, cyclists and pedestrians are given a front seat, the Evening News can reveal.

Prices at pay-and-display meters are to rise by 20p – pushing the city-centre rate to £3.20 an hour – while parking permits across the city centre will climb by ten per cent across the board.

Parking permits for those in the highest band will cost £526 a year instead of £463 – a huge hike when vehicle excise duty, petrol and insurance costs are factored in to owning a motor.

Overall, an extra £2 million is set to be wrung from the pockets of car owners over the next four years, as part of a deliberate policy to promote public transport and the needs of cyclists and pedestrians over those who favour the car to get around the Capital.

City transport and environment convener Lesley Hinds defended the step, saying she knows “it’s contentious” and never popular, but insists it’s a necessary way “of raising money for the council with all monies raised going back into the transport budget”. She said: “This money allows us to protect the children and families and health budgets.”

An ambitious target of reducing overall car journeys by city residents to 31 per cent by 2020 has been set – from its current figure of 43 per cent.

In total, £16m is also to be spent repairing potholes, pavements, street lighting and roads across the city – roughly the same as previous years.

Overall, though, the city’s cash-strapped transport department – which falls under the umbrella of the vast Services for Communities (SfC) department – has been handed a budget of £35m to invest in the city’s roads, pavements, bridges, structures and flood prevention this year, down £5m from last year.

To help look after their pennies, council chiefs have revealed they are installing special neon street lights with bulbs which need replaced less often, but have a stark, bright white illumination instead of the familiar sodium yellow street ambiance.

Roads bosses will spend £2.1m of an interest-free, 20-year loan upgrading 6000 street lights to the white light look.

The upgrade follows a pilot where 271 street lights were upgraded in Gilmerton and Saughton last year.

There are currently 63,418 street lights illuminating the city, costing £2.9m a year in electricity. It is estimated that the new street lighting could save the council £280,000 per year.

Other measures designed to help balance the books include fining utility companies who carry out shoddy road repairs and targeting trade waste offenders with a 12-strong team of environmental wardens.

Overall SfC has been hit with a budget reduction of seven per cent – or £8m on last year – the largest percentage service cut across the city council.

Savings are to be found through the “natural wastage” of not replacing staff, while more than £700,000 is to be raised through the much derided move to fortnightly bin collections and resulting lower landfill costs.

However, the ambitious recycling target of 50 per cent for 2013/14 set on the scheme’s launch has been missed. The actual figure stands at 40 per cent, but environment chiefs are confident of hitting their target for 2014/2015 with a simplified, redesigned “one big bin” scheme to be rolled out later this year.

Cllr Hinds said: “Overall, within the Transport and Environment budget, instead of looking at increasing revenue or cutting we’ve decided to look at being more efficient with how we operate. The key message over the last two years and for the years ahead is looking at greater efficiencies in how we operate, rather than reducing the service.

“We’ve saved millions out of the budget by just providing our services in a more cost-effective manner. In particular, in environment we have taken probably the biggest hit of the savings so as to protect the budgets of children and families and health and social care.

“This is the message we got through consultation with the public.”

However, Brian MacDowall, of the Alliance of British Drivers, said penalising motorists with “exorbitant costs” will not result in the increased use of public transport, but will only result in driving people away from the city centre.

“Edinburgh council is quite clearly waging a war against the motorist,” he said. “If they believe high parking charges and penalising motorists will result in a drop in car use they are sadly wrong. People will just go elsewhere.”

In terms of road users, cyclists and walkers are the biggest winners, with a seven per cent share of the city’s overall transport budget being spent on a number of projects for them – up a single per cent from last year.

The Meadows to Innocent Path is to be refurbished at an estimated £500,000 cost; the A90 cycle route is to be completed to the tune of £1m and the Loanhead to Gilmerton Path is to have £650,000 spent on its upgrade. However, while welcoming the investment, Kim Harding, of the Pedal on Parliament group, remains sceptical.

He said: “It’s great to have the money, but quite often a lot of it is wasted. Last year some of the quality bike corridor was altered so as to increase parking and this was charged from the bike budget.

“The council spends a lot of time consulting with various groups such as ourselves and Spokes then largely ignoring our advice. Hopefully this can change going forward.”

Bus users are also to be rewarded, with an additional £120,000 being earmarked for subsidised services in the rural west of the city in places such as Clermiston, Ratho and Kirkliston.

A consultation is also to be carried out in a bid to improve bus services for Dumbiedykes residents in the city centre, with options including diverting a current service, subsidising a new route or laying on community transport.

Revenue is also to be raised within the transport department by way of a more robust approach towards utility companies – fines will be issued to those judged to have carried out shoddy or late works.

Extra inspectors have been hired to help carry out 25,000 inspections this year. They are expected to claw in £150k - £50k more than last year.

The figures at a glance

CAPITAL investment in city infrastructure is £35 million – of this £16m is to be invested in repairing roads and pavements.

Cycling is to receive seven per cent of the overall budget, with a range of cycle lanes and improvements planned.

Motorists will face a 20p hike on parking charges, while parking permits are to rise by ten per cent.

An additional £120,000 has been set aside for subsidised bus services in the west of the city.

Reinstatement inspections of utility works are expected to bring in around £150,000 in revenue.

Also £2.1m is to be spent upgrading 6000 street lights across the city, using LED technology with a view to saving the council £280,000 per year.

In total, £9m is to be spent on transforming Leith Walk from Picardy Place to the Foot of the Walk.

‘Savings must be made’

By Lesley Hinds

Transport and environment convener, Edinburgh City Council

“As the convener responsible for transport and environment in the city, I support this approach, which is why I accept the need for my service area to accept a larger proportion of savings to allow these vital services to be protected as far as possible.

“We want our children to have the best start in life, for Edinburgh’s elderly population to receive the best care possible and for families to feel safe in their communities.

“This presented a huge challenge when considering the transport and environment elements of the council’s budget proposals. We wanted to make efficiencies and also maintain high quality services. We have been able to make significant savings over the past year while still maintaining our strategic, long-term approach to looking after the city’s environment. Adjustments to our management of waste, for example, will have achieved more than

£1 million in savings by the end of the financial year. Recycling rates are improving, too, and we are determined to build on the more than £1m in landfill savings made in 2013/14. This year will also bring changes to the way we collect rubbish and recycling, plus a step-up in our campaign to encourage food recycling.

“Our budget will see smart investment. With the launch of Transport for Edinburgh, this gives us an opportunity to have an integrated Lothian Buses and trams, as a first step towards a joined up public transport system in Edinburgh.

“As part of our commitment to promoting cleaner, greener travel our new Local Transport Strategy will focus on walking, cycling and public transport. Our budget pledge is to spend seven per cent of the transport budget on cycling measures for 2014/15.

“A range of new initiatives aim to further promote safe, sustainable travel in the Capital, including the roll-out of 20mph speed limits and the piloting of “school streets” doubled, with at least £15m investment in our roads and pavements in the next year. ”