Transport guru in call for free shop parking
TRANSPORT guru David Begg today called on city leaders to introduce free parking for shoppers in a bid to win support from retailers for road tolls.
Mr Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, said motorists should be offered free parking for the first hour.
Retailers have opposed congestion charging, believing it would see takings fall as shoppers shun the city centre to avoid paying the tolls, but Mr Begg said free parking could help win traders round.
The former city council transport chief said the incentive would mean shoppers would effectively get a refund on their 2 road toll.
Under Mr Begg’s proposals, free parking would be offered for the first hour of the trading day to lure shoppers to the city centre.
He also called on Edinburgh to offer a similar package of road toll exemptions to those in place in London, where buses, taxis and breakdown recovery vehicles are all exempt.
These exemptions - along with council plans to exempt people in west Edinburgh living outside the outer toll cordon - were rejected by inquiry reporters who explored the road toll proposals.
Mr Begg admitted city chiefs faced the very difficult choice of whether to abandon this previous pledge because doing so could lead to defeat in next year’s referendum.
He said: "The council is not going to win this referendum unless it makes a series of concessions to build up a body of public support for the scheme.
"The kind of concession they could offer to retailers is to offer to use the money that is raised from congestion charging to pay for free parking for the first hour of the shopping day in the city centre.
"It would be a real incentive to people who maybe wouldn’t consider coming into Edinburgh to shop at the moment because the roads are too congested. They would have an easier journey in and would get their money back on the congestion charge."
The public inquiry also rejected demands from retailers to limit the running time for the inner cordon around the city centre to the morning rush-hour - the same as the outer cordon. Inquiry reporters admitted the impact of congestion charging on city centre retailers and other businesses was of major concern.
The Scottish Retail Consortium has demanded major concessions for traders if congestion charging is brought in, amid fears the Capital’s reputation as a shopping destination could be damaged by the introduction of tolls.
The council has already pledged to spend 15 million in the first five years of congestion charging on initiatives to promote retailers in the city centre.
The Scottish Retail Consortium has previously suggested a scheme is set up so shoppers are able to claim 2 off the cost of their parking in the city centre.
Director Fiona Moriarty said: "We need to sit down with the council and work out what form of concessions can be brought forward. It’s an interesting idea from David Begg, but we need to look at whether it would be viable and how it would work. We don’t want to see shoppers penalised for coming into the city centre."
Mr Begg said the inquiry findings on the planned exemptions for buses and taxis were baffling, but he was more cautious on the issue of whether to exempt people in parts of Edinburgh outside the bypass.
The prospect has infuriated politicians in Fife, Midlothian and West Lothian, who say the scheme would be discriminatory, a claim this week backed by the inquiry reporters.
Mr Begg said: "I can understand why transport professionals would support the views expressed by the reporters on the council’s planned exemptions.
"However, the council has to build up public support in the run-up to the referendum, which is going to be difficult enough to win as it is.
"It’s a difficult call for the council on the west Edinburgh exemptions, but the council has to do what if feels is right and I believe the right thing to do is put forward a package of exemptions that is going to command public support in the referendum.
"The main thing the congestion charge is going to tackle is traffic coming from outwith Edinburgh. The council’s problem is this anomaly that has been thrown up, but the danger is that if they don’t exempt the rural west Edinburgh area then they could lose the referendum."
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Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
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