Visitors could abandon some of the Lothians’ most popular beaches if proposed £2 parking charges are introduced, it has been claimed.
As reported in the Evening News, plans have been announced by East Lothian’s Labour group to roll out the fee on parking at 13 beaches.
The proposal has been condemned by businesses who say they will suffer as the move will drive tourists elsewhere.
Sam Christopherson runs the Coast to Coast Surf School in Dunbar, one of the busiest in the country, which provides lessons and equipment hire.
He said: “You can just drive three minutes up the road by car to Pease Bay in the Borders and it’s free to park.
“The charge will discourage surfers from coming to East Lothian because a lot of them use four different beaches on the same day, so that brings the cost up by another £8.
“We also take school kids out on discounted lessons but with the added charge the cost of a lesson for your child is going to rise by ten per cent.”
The Labour group hopes to raise £1 million through the introduction of the charge, which it has said will be spent on coastal regeneration.
Charges would apply to some of the county’s most popular beaches including Longniddry Bents, Gullane Bents and Linkfield and Shore Road in Dunbar.
Officials have been asked to see if the charges can be introduced this summer, but they may have to wait until next year.
Mr Christopherson said: “For the past eight years, the council has been pushing coastal tourism and that’s led to more and more people coming to enjoy the coast.
“They would be better spending money on marketing the car parks and bringing even more people to the area and that would generate income in itself.
“If you have 50 people who would have come to East Lothian heading to the Borders that’s a big benefit for them and a loss for us.”
Jim Findlay, owner of The Rocks Hotel and Restaurant on Dunbar’s Marine Road, also expected the area’s tourist industry to suffer.
He said: “The council shouldn’t be introducing charges in this climate, it will put people off.
“Businesses encourage people to come here and the council should be doing the same – not chasing them away.”
Roy McGregor, co-owner of Gullane Art Gallery, said: “I am totally against the charges because not only will they discourage people from coming to the beach, it will lead to people parking in places which they shouldn’t.
“The whole thing will be counter-productive.”
While national tourism body VisitScotland acknowledged many firms would be “concerned” at the introduction of the charges, it did not expect them to have a significant impact on the area.
A spokesman said: “East Lothian offers fantastic, impressive beaches where watersports are hugely popular because of the locations so, if the proposal were to go ahead, we don’t expect a car parking charge to impact significantly on the number of visitors the area will attract in the future.”
Bert Torrance, 67, Duddingston, retired: “Introducing the charge could very well put off families from coming here.”
Katy Reid, 26, Edinburgh, market researcher: “When I’m not working I’ll take the dog down here pretty much every day, so that would work out at £14 a week. I just wouldn’t be able to come down here as often – £2 is quite a lot for a parking charge and if they bring it in I think a lot of people won’t bother coming down any more.”
Ian Brockie, 70, Blackhall, retired: “I think if you have parking charges people will just look for alternative sites. A lot of the time the only people who come down here are dog walkers.”
John Menzies, 60, Tranent, retired: “I come down here four or five days a week for a bit of peace and quiet and I’ve done that for years, but I won’t be doing that if they bring in a £2 charge. It will affect business at the shops in the village too.”