Angus parking charges will remain suspended for six months and the “reset button” pressed in a full review of the controversial scheme as part of the drive to put the area’s economy back on track.
The move came as Angus Council’s finance spokesman placed the county’s economic recovery high on the agenda in a redrawing of the authority’s budget to deal with a £10 million-plus Covid-19 financial blow.
After UK and Scottish Government funding, Angus still has a near £4m budget gap to plug and will dip into reserves to meet three quarters of that.
Finance spokesman Angus MacMillan Douglas said the prudent performance of preceding years – Angus has shaved £55m from spending in the last seven years and was targeting £10m of savings in 2020/21 – had put the council in a stronger position to deal with the huge fiscal stresses of the coronavirus crisis.
“We have built up reserves for a rainy day, so it is not unreasonable now to use part of them,” said the Kirriemuir Conservative.
“We have balanced our budget, are protecting services for our citizens and are doing what we can to assist the Angus economy by way of our economic recovery programme.”
The parking charges move was added to the revised budget plan by communities convener, Montrose Independent Mark Salmond.
He received unanimous backing for his amendment to suspend the off-street charges – heavily criticised since their re-introduction at the end of 2018 – until the end of the financial year on March 31, and for an Angus-wide review of both on and off-street parking.
“None of us know how long the economic effects of Covid-19 are going to continue to impact negatively on Angus high streets,” said Mr Salmond.
“This will give all Angus retailers the confidence to plan ahead and focus on Christmas 2020, knowing that all our car parks will be free.
“The current and predicted economic effects of Covid-19 on the Angus economy mean it’s essential that this council push the re-set button, agree to carry out a full review and make an evidence-based decision on whether pay-to-park has a future in Angus,” said Mr Salmond.
He said a member/officer working group should “start with a blank sheet of paper and shape a new business plan with robust calculations.”
But Mr Salmond warned: “If we don’t re-introduce parking charges we must be truthful with our residents about the cuts to services we may have to make to compensate for the lost parking income.
“I am reluctant to pre-judge any options which may come forward, but the position of the administration group is that on-street parking will remain free and we will not agree to any proposals which move away from that position.”
Montrose SNP councillor Bill Duff said: “I am happy to acknowledge Councillor Salmond has done a u-turn on the road to wherever it is.
“Covid-19 has dealt our retail and hospitality industry a huge blow. We’ve a lot of small businesses on our high streets which are essentially providing a living for their owners and we need to sit down as a council and agree a way forward.”