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Empty car parks ‘deja vu’ warning if Angus off-street charges are brought back

parking charges return Fife
Pay and display returned to Angus in 2018. Image: Kris Miller/DC Thomson

Angus councillors face an uphill struggle to convince folk to pay and display if they decide to bring back parking charges in this year’s budget.

That’s the early message from a leading figure in the protests which followed the return of meters to 33 off-street car parks in 2018.

Brechin businessman Bruce Robertson says the decision-makers can expect “empty car park déjà vu”.

“They emptied virtually overnight when this scheme was brought in, and I can see the same happening again,” he said.

Motorists in one of the highest-earning car parks said they will either walk into town or go back to finding a space nearby for free.

And a leading figure in the previous administration which led the return of charges admitted their re-introduction is a “huge risk”.

Budget pressures

The controversial scheme could make a comeback as the authority tries to balance the books and save tens of millions of pounds in the coming years.

Council leader Beth Whiteside says her ruling SNP group has made no firm decision on whether charges will return.

But a pledge to learn lessons from the way the scheme was brought back after an absence of 20 years suggests the issue is under the spotlight.

Car parking was forecast to bring in £750,000 per annum – but made less than half that in its first full year.

Businessman’s doubts

Bruce Robertson thinks it’s doomed to fail if it returns.

“They made a massive mistake the first time round by not asking the business what they thought,” he said.

“And they can promise a consultation this time, but that will be loaded to the answers they want.

Bruce Robertson Brechin
Brechin hardware store owner Bruce Robertson campaigned against the parking charges when they came in at the end of 2018.

“Proper consultation is really getting round the table with retailers and coming up with ideas.

“But what they will hear is that people don’t want to see the charges come back.

“When they were suspended it changed overnight – it was busier again.

“Every community has their challenges and to bring charges back would be against what they say they are trying to do to help sustain town centres.

“Putting supermarkets on the edge of towns with free parking doesn’t do that.

“We need all the help we can get to encourage people to come into town centres and shop.

“When these charges came in it was like a switch – the car parks virtually emptied.

“People just parked elsewhere for free and I think that’s what would happen again.”

Early resistance

Drivers parking in Forfar’s Myre car park said they would be unhappy if charges return.

Sam Shore works as a postie based at the West High Street delivery office beside the car park.

And she says she’ll not be paying if the charges come back.

“I worked in a different office when they first came in so I didn’t have to pay,” she said.

“I park my car here just now, but if they came back I’d walk into work.

Forfar Myre car park
Meters at The Myre in Forfar remain covered up. Image: Graham Brown/DC Thomson

“It would cost me a fortune to park here all day – I’d rather walk.”

Another Forfar resident, Andy Ip would also find a space elsewhere.

“I didn’t pay for a permit previously, I usually just walked,” he said.

“If they were to come back I’d do that again.

“The town’s dead as it is, it would just drive people away.”

Another driver said: “I used to have to pay when I was working but I don’t think you should have to.

“As long as it doesn’t get extortionate I would pay, but I don’t park here often.

“For people who are working a permit is an extra burden with the cost of fuel and all sorts of things.

‘Necessary evil’

Angus opposition leader Derek Wann has admitted the charges were “unsustainable”.

He was part of the Conservative/Independent administration which previously said the meters were “here to stay” after former council chief David Fairweather labelled them a “necessary evil”.

“There’s a massive hole in Angus Council’s finances,” said Arbroath councillor Mr Wann.

“Off-street parking charges filled in a small hole in one budget but proved to be unsustainable, especially when Covid hit.

“Reintroducing them while the economy is this fragile would be a huge risk.

“I would far prefer waiting for the high street to show signs of recovery from high inflation.

“If that is the choice between closing schools or gambling with the High Street, I think we’re stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

The Conservative/Independent opposition fear Angus schools may be at risk in future budgets after failing to secure a continued moratorium against rural primary closures.