£15 to park a bus on Calton Hill... that's a bit steep

COACH tour companies are facing a 200 per cent hike in the cost of accessing one of the city’s premier beauty spots, re-igniting a feud between the council and Scotland’s leading tour guide group.

The Scottish Tourist Guides Association has declared war on park bosses for the "outrageous" move to increase the parking fee at Calton Hill from 5 to 15.

Bosses at the Edinburgh branch, which has more than 150 members, have appealed for a last-minute U-turn over the proposed hike, due to come into force from April 1.

The association claims the move may force tour operators to ditch plans to take coach parties up to the beauty spot to enjoy its famous views of the city.

Richard Guest, secretary of the association, said members felt cheated that the price increase was being proposed despite no prospect of any toilet facilities being promised for visitors.

However the council insists the hike is the first it has imposed on tour buses for almost ten years and that all cash raised will be ploughed back into the upkeep of Calton Hill.

The two parties have been at loggerheads in recent years after tour coaches were banned from travelling up and down the High Street section of the Royal Mile.

The authority has already come under heavy scrutiny for increasing the cost of visiting the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill from 2 to 3 from April 1.

Critics accused the council of trying to cash in on the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, but the authority claimed it had been forced to act because of budgetary pressures on its culture and leisure department.

Last year, more than 1600 tour buses visited Calton Hill while parking staff were on duty during the peak tourist season from May to September.

Mr Guest said: "A number of tour companies are already deterred from going up on to Calton Hill because of the charge.

"This is a swingeing increase which is only going to put off drivers and will deprive hundreds of visitors to the city of the chance to enjoy one of the best panoramic views of Edinburgh.

"Additionally, there is still no reference from the council for provision of toilets for visitors to rectify the appalling shortage of such facilities for coach tour groups visiting the city.

"The tour companies that go there at the moment could well think twice in future if they each have to pay 15 to drive up Calton Hill."

A spokeswoman for Discovery Travel, in Forth Street, said: "It’s obviously a fairly large increase, which tour companies will have to swallow up and pass on to the customer."

Liberal Democrat councillor Marilyne MacLaren, who has backed the calls from the association for a re-think, said: "We all know that Edinburgh is a world-class tourist city, but 15 for a view is a bit steep.

"There are no facilities on the hill, not even public toilets or a cafe. I confidently predict that this ‘tax on tourism’ will not bring in the money the council expects."

Herbert Coutts, the council’s director of culture and leisure, said: "Footpaths and roads on Calton Hill are subject to constant heavy use, particularly during the summer months. Between May and September last year, 1602 buses visited Calton Hill, causing wear and tear to the access road.

"The charge for tour buses has remained the same for almost a decade.

"The council has set aside 75,000 for improvements to pathways and access to Calton Hill, while our Calton Hill working group is considering a management plan for the area, including building and facility improvements to continually enhance the visitor experience."