Car parking will stay free in Angus until 2022 in a surprise U-turn.
Ahead of the authority’s budget-setting next month, the Angus Council ruling coalition has said charges will remain suspended until the next elections in May 2022.
Covers have remained on meters at 33 off-street Angus car parks since March 2020 as Covid-19 brought the UK to a standstill.
Administration chiefs say the latest move aims to support businesses in their pandemic recovery.
Ruling group unanimously agree move
Angus communities convener and Montrose Independent councillor, Mark Salmond, said: “After the latest meeting of the councils policy and budget strategy group, the decision was taken by all administration group councillors to continue free parking until the end of the current council term in May 2022.
“This major policy decision will be one of many which all 28 councillors will be asked to consider as part of the budget-setting process in March.
“This unforeseen pandemic has changed people’s lives and the way Angus businesses trade.
“The administration group are making the announcement early, that parking charges will not return in the near future, to remove any uncertainty in the minds of Angus businesses and allow them to fully focus on rebuilding their economic security.”
“We want to send a clear signal out on our plans,” he said.
The ruling coalition’s unanimous support for the plan means the step looks certain to succeed even if the opposition SNP group bring forward an alternative budget next month.
Parking consultation findings due for release
A district-wide consultation on public parking in Angus – both on-street and off – ran until the end of last year and drew more than 3,000 responses.
Mr Salmond said: “The wider review on the findings of the recently-completed public parking consultation will be made public in a report to a council committee later this month”.
Council finance spokesman Angus Macmillan Douglas said: “The pandemic has been a complete game-changer and as such we set up the Angus Economic Recovery programme last summer to find ways of helping our local economy and protect jobs in the face of severe economic damage caused by lockdown measures.
“We are now committed to keeping parking free in Angus until the effects of the pandemic on our lives and businesses are overcome.”
The Economic Recovery Group was established last May in a ruling group drive to boost businesses and communities post-coronavirus.
However, it came under fire from the authority’s SNP group over their exclusion from discussions to set it up.
The administration’s parking charges move is the latest stage in a saga surrounding the re-introduction of off-street at the end of 2018 following an absence of 20 years.
But the scheme has been dogged by protests, vandalism of meters and complaints about a card-only system which prompted an extra five-figure spend on new cash meters.
Income has also fallen far short of forecasts, with a first full-year total of £320,000 – less than half the projected £700,000.