Councillors are expected to make a final decision on Thursday on fresh charges in Aberdeenshire’s pay and display car-parks.
Facing a projected £211,000 car-park budget deficit for the current financial year, council officers are proposing to scrap free parking periods and replace them with a 50p charge for up to one hour across the region.
Recommendations before a meeting of the infrastructure services committee in November also included the introduction of free parking after 5pm and changes to time bands and tariffs to encourage longer stays and more economic activity.
A motion was made by the to approve the recommendations subject to the 2-5 hours slot being £3 instead of £2 and that a report be brought back in 12 months to include looking at ways of linking parking and retail use, using Huntly as a pilot.
The opposition Partnership proposed retaining a 30-minute free parking slot, with charges of £2 for up to two hours, £3 for 2-3 hours, £5 for 3-5 hours and £7.50 for five hours and over.
Opposition leader Councillor Richard Thomson described plans to end free parking periods in the area’s pay-and-display car parks as a “complete nonsense” ahead of today’s crunch vote.
But in a report going before the full council, infrastructure services director Stephen Archer says the Partnership’s option comes with an element of risk.
He says: “It is expected this alternative proposal would reduce the number of longer stays in town centres, as people are effectively being encouraged to spend less time there.
“Towns such as Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banff will be moving from having a one-hour free period with moderate charges for longer stays to a half-hour free period with increased charges for the longer stays.
“Other towns will also experience increased charges for longer stays under this proposal. There is a significant risk of a greater deficit than currently experienced, should this proposal be taken forward.”
If an agreement on the tariff proposal is reached, it will then go out to statutory and public consultation.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Mearns SNP Councillor Leigh Wilson said: “This plan as it stands is a complete nonsense. Most people using the current free parking period are making some kind of ‘grab and go’ purchase.
“If they are forced to pay for making even a brief stop-off, many customers will choose to go instead to the supermarkets.
“Short free parking periods have helped sustain town centres and enjoy the support of shoppers and business owners alike.
“It beggars belief that some in Aberdeenshire council seem happy to take that away without giving serious consideration to the wider economic implications.”
He added: “If councillors press ahead with this decision they will have learned nothing from the folly of Angus Council.
“My ward borders Angus and I see for myself how formerly busy car parks are now lying empty in a council concocted wasteland.
“Every councillor now has a vote on this, and with it, a choice to make on whether to back the ‘party line’ or to do what is right by their communities.”
At the ISC meeting in November, chairman Councillor Peter Argyle stressed that around 75% of all parking remained free in the region’s towns through off-street spaces and said there were no proposals to change that.
He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not ending free parking in Aberdeenshire. Seventy five percent of all the places off-street and 100% of all the places on-street where people can park in Aberdeenshire are currently free and there is absolutely no proposal to change that.”
He said the focus was on the free element within the 25% of paid-for spaces which had lead to a huge impact on the budget which was “not sustainable”.
He said at the time: “We’re not seeking to make a profit. If there is any surplus then it will be reinvested into the transport service.”