Road bosses have refused to say how much income has been brought in from Angus parking charges, saying it is in the “public interest” to keep them secret.
A previous request made to Angus Council was blocked, despite the authority being in possession of the figures 12 months since charges were reinstated last November, and now a Freedom of Information request has also been rejected, with officials saying it is for the benefit of the public that they are withheld until councillors receive the details in January.
Campaigners have accused the authority of destroying democracy in their handling of the controversial scheme, with a leading figure in protests against the charges suggesting the figures are so bad councillors will be forced to “cave in” and scrap the set-up.
November 1 saw the first anniversary of the return of fees to Angus off-street car parks but the authority refused to reveal the full income data, saying it would be placed before communities committee members on January 14.
The scheme was originally forecast to generate £700,000 a year for the cash-strapped council, but has been dogged by criticism and additional cost, including a £43,000 move to offer a cash option in response to driver complaints about card payments.
The six-month net income total for the Angus-wide set-up introduced in 33 off-street car parks was just over £160,000.
The FOI request for the figures was rejected under an exemption clause within the legislation.
Roads and transportation service leader Walter Scott said: “This information is subject to a non-absolute exemption as the information is intended for future publication within 12 weeks of the request.
“We have taken the view that it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information be withheld from disclosure until that time and that on balance it is in the public interest to do so.”
Barrie Ewart of Kirriemuir and Local Business Association (KALBA) said: “Reading between the lines it looks as if the council may be about to cave in on parking charges.
“The only reason for them to withhold the figures going to the communities committee would be that they are so far from estimated income they need to reconsider the viability of the whole scheme.
“Given the public outcry and the devastation caused to the Angus town centres, they would be well advised and would show financial competence if they scrapped the scheme altogether.”
During a failed attempt by Carnoustie councillor Brian Boyd at a recent council meeting to end the fees in Brechin, Carnoustie and Kirriemuir , administration leader David Fairweather reiterated his frequently stated position that “parking charges are here to stay”.
Brechin businessman Bruce Robertson, of Angus Business and Retailers’ Association (ABRA) said the group had received a similar response to a total of seven FOIs lodged in relation to parking charges.
“Public funds have paid for the introduction of parking charges, public funds are paying for the ongoing running costs but it’s not in the public interest to know the financial situation – this is the reality of today’s council administration,” he said.
“Clearly they have decided to kick this political hot potato further down the high street to give the administration time to sugar coat the financial figures they release.”
“When openness and transparency are lost, then so is democracy.”