Free parking in Aberdeenshire towns under threat

Councillors will discuss changes to parking across the region
Councillors will discuss changes to parking across the region

Aberdeenshire towns are poised to lose their free parking under a council revenue drive.

Facing a projected £176,000 car-parking budget deficit for the current financial year, councillors will consider making sweeping changes to the parking strategy.

Under the preferred option going before the infrastructure services committee tomorrow (Thursday), members will be asked to scrap free parking and replace it with a 50p charge for up to one hour across the region.

The recommendations also include the introduction of free parking after 5pm and changes to time bands and tariffs to encourage longer stays and more economic activity.

In a report to councillors, director of infrastructure services Stephen Archer says the current car park tariffs were introduced on December 2, 2014.

He states: “Members should note that the key reason for the introduction of the current tariffs was to encourage economic activity in our town centres at a time when the economy was struggling in general.”

The local authority was advised back in January, that prior to the introduction of the free tariffs there were around 800,000 transactions annually in its car parks.

But while that has risen to 1.3 million in 2017/18, a considerable 80 per cent were free.

Commenting on the significant impact on revenue that the introduction of free tariffs has had, Mr Archer will advise: “Before the revised tariffs, income from car parking charges was £100,000 to £200,000 greater than all of the expenditure on car parks.

“The revenue budget approved by Aberdeenshire Council on February 8, 2018, set the budget for car parks at zero – ie total expenditure should match total income.

“Whilst efficiencies are always being sought in expenditure, the vast majority of the costs are fixed. Therefore, to balance the budget a significant change in income is required.

“Scenario 3 presents a situation where, even with a 35% reduction in the overall transactions due to any changes in the behaviour of the people parking in our towns, it would still generate sufficient income to cover the budget deficit.”

All six local area committees have offered differing opinions during their discussions on the risks and opportunities the proposals would provide.

Generally, however, councillors want to see some form of free parking being retained and they expressed real concern about the impact that increasing car parking charges to the levels suggested would have on the economic vitality of town centres.

Under the proposals, changes to time bands and tariffs would be introduced to encourage longer stays and more economic activity.

In addition, the council is recommending that off-street parking be made more attractive to those working in town centres, thereby potentially freeing up on-street parking.