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Councillors comment on car-parking charges


By David G Scott

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THE issue of car-parking charges in Caithness is open for debate with Highland Council agreeing to begin a wide-ranging consultation process on the matter.

In the week after Wick residents were invited to comment on the regeneration of their town, the contentious issue of car parking – linked by many to the future economic growth of the area – is back on the agenda.

On Thursday, the council agreed to an ambitious new policy for off-street car parking after an in-depth question-and-answer session. Under the new policy, all 230 car parks in the region will come under the power of local area committees so that communities can decide the best course.

Wick and East Caithness councillors issued a joint statement in which they talked about reassuring members of the public "so they aren’t unduly alarmed" by the decision to include all car parks.

The riverside car park in Wick may be introducing charges soon. Picture: DGS
The riverside car park in Wick may be introducing charges soon. Picture: DGS

The statement reads: "Today Highland Council agreed to begin a wide-ranging consultation process on the introduction of car-parking charges.

"It was decided that all car parks would be included in the proposal to charge, and local councillors would need to opt out if they wished to abandon or amend the plans. This was not quite what we had expected – up until now it was our understanding that we’d come up with a variety of proposals at a local level that reflect community needs, and go out to consultation on those."

The statement goes on point out the importance of the final decision resting with local area committees. "The public voice will be heard and we will make a decision on whether or how to charge based entirely on local feedback," it says.

"If off-street car parking charges are approved, 50 per cent of revenues will be kept locally to fund improvements to the area. There will be no financial penalties or budget cuts for areas that decide not to implement charges. Those who do charge will benefit from a local revenue stream."

The councillors pointed out that the consultation for off-street parking is entirely separate from traffic management and on-street parking and is unrelated to the town centre regeneration being spearheaded locally in Wick.

"Our commitment to redesign the riverside car park is not contingent on charging and will go ahead regardless."

The statement ended with the ward members asking the public to "share their views as fully as possible" to help them make a decision that is in the "best interests" of the community as a whole.

A car park at Dunnet Bay with an overflowing bin. Revenue from parking charges could help fund local initiatives to tidy up these areas. Picture: Matthew Reiss.
A car park at Dunnet Bay with an overflowing bin. Revenue from parking charges could help fund local initiatives to tidy up these areas. Picture: Matthew Reiss.

Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss said that his colleagues in Wick and East Caithness had explained the points very well.

"Crucially, the decisions about where to charge for car parking, where not to, levels of fees, seasonal charging and so on will be decided locally," he said.

"There's no perfect answer and everyone will have different ideas. People have regularly told me that campervans, for example, which park freely at Dunnet Head and Badbea, as well as pretty much anywhere, should pay a little something into the local area.

"Tourism is good news for the county and by asking motorists for a small contribution we can tidy up local areas for everyone's benefit. The surplus sums could be spent on different things – improving toilets, road and car-park repairs, perhaps amenity planting of flowers or trees."

Councillor Reiss said he that he believes that car parks with charges "will be improved" before the charges are introduced.

Of the local authority’s 230 car parks there are charges at just 20 sites which make close to £1 million a year (£989,000). Under the new policy the council aims to generate between £4.4 million and £6.03 million annually based on 149 sites.

Integral to the policy is 84 days of consultation and engagement to produce proposals tailored to suit an area in what is called a “place-based strategy”.

It means many towns fearful of the impact on their high streets can have a say and influence the decision-making locally.

The council does hope for a greater uptake by offering communities the option to not implement charges as a way of generating cash through retaining a considerable portion of revenues locally.


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