A GROUP set up by the council to help support businesses during the tram works has refused to reintroduce free city centre parking over the festive period.
The new Tram Animation Group (TAG), which has an annual budget of £355,000 provided by the city council, has chosen to focus on other events and promotions in and around Princes Street, which will become fully pedestrianised when tram work halts from mid-November until the New Year.
But the decision not to fund free parking on week nights and Saturday afternoons – estimated to cost the council around £70,000 in lost revenues – has been criticised by business leaders. They are now calling on the council to pay for the promotion themselves.
Free parking was first introduced in 2005 and latterly became part of the “Open for Business” campaign, which is now overseen by TAG.
Graham Birse, managing director of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “I know that the retail community would be very keen for it to happen but I don’t know where it is in the council now and I know they have tight budgets.
“What we have to think about is how we attract footfall, business and turnover in the city. We have a wonderful opportunity with the closure of Princes Street, and the works discontinuing, to use Princes Street as a platform for events and promotions. Part of that could have been parking being waived or reduced.”
Motorists had been offered the opportunity to park for free from the earlier time of 5.30pm on weekdays and from 1pm on Saturdays for five successive years before the promotion was dropped last year after the council refused to step in to pick up the cost of lost revenue.
The council has not yet made a final decision on whether it will fund the promotion this year, although there are no plans imminent to ask councillors to approve such a scheme.
The scheme, which initially ran from November 1 onwards before being moved back to only the four weeks before Christmas in 2009, was said to have provided a welcome boost to businesses as they fought competition from out-of-town shopping centres and the perception that the city centre was closed to traffic due to tram work.
Businesses had campaigned for it to be reintroduced this year as part of the TAG proposals but have now been told it will not return.
Gordon Henderson, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in the east of Scotland, said: “It is a disappointment but I would now urge the council to make the best use of the parking they do have.”
The bad weather last year was already thought to have cost the city council around £1.5 million in lost parking revenue because parking enforcers were often unable to dish out fines on cars without a ticket.
The TAG group, which is chaired by council head of transport Marshall Poulton, is now looking at other ways to encourage people into the centre, including events on Princes Street.
A council spokesman said: “The council is still considering the option of a Christmas parking promotion. Separately, TAG is developing a programme of on-street activity to run over the festive period.”