Edinburgh could become the first local authority area in Scotland to charge companies for allowing employees to park at work.
Councillors are considering a workplace parking levy, which could also include customer parking, as part of a campaign to cut congestion and air pollution.
The SNP-Labour administration’s transport and environment committee has agreed to investigate setting up the scheme and will “set out the argument and rationale” for the charge.
In Nottingham, which in 2010 became the first place in the UK to introduce the levy, businesses are charged £402 each year per space and the money goes towards transport improvements, including extending the city’s tram network. Employers can choose to reclaim the cost of the levy from their employees. All organisations and premises with more than ten parking places are liable for the charge.
Scottish councils would need permission from the Scottish Government to introduce the charge, which could be achieved through an amendment to its Transport Bill.
The levy is backed by transport group Transform Scotland, which has said it could be applied to “workplaces as well as other types of premises”, raising the prospect of out-of-town shopping centres having to pay the levy to provide free parking to customers.
Edinburgh’s transport and environment convener Lesley Macinnes said: “We’re still at a very early stage and our next steps will involve setting out an argument and rationale for introducing a workplace parking levy in order to seek the necessary legislative changes from the Scottish Government to introduce such a measure.
“However, we’re confident that introducing a workplace parking levy would achieve many benefits – reducing the number of car journeys made into the city and in turn lowering congestion, improving air quality and encouraging active travel.
“This would very much be part of our broader ambitions to transform the way we use the city centre, including the introduction of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and proposals for city centre transformation.”
It is hoped the levy would generate around £9 million a year to pay for improvements to Edinburgh’s transport network, but council officers said the annual revenue could be as much as £15m.
A report to councillors said: “Edinburgh is a commuter work destination. We have issues with our road maintenance and investment in transport infrastructure.
“Introducing a workplace parking levy in Edinburgh would be an example of devolving further responsibility and powers to local authorities and could support investment in our transport infrastructure and maintenance.”
Conservatives opposed the council’s stance on introducing the policy and asked for a balanced report on the positives and negatives of the levy.
Nick Cook said: “We are almost setting an assumption that the council is in favour of introducing a workplace parking levy.”
His Conservative colleague Scott Douglas added: “It seems like we are putting the cart before the horse. I think we should take time to consider it in both pros and cons with it. I also have concerns over business engagement with it.”
Green councillor Chas Booth asked the committee whether there was “an opportunity to include customer parking as well” in the scheme. He said: “Some recognise it as a missing link in sustainable transport.”
The committee agreed to include looking at a “wider non-residential parking levy which could also cover customer parking spaces”.
Plans for a LEZ have been billed as having the potential to “leave a legacy” for future generations.
The council is carrying out an eight-week public consultation on how to shape the future of transport in Edinburgh.
A prospectus outlining three visions, including a radical approach where the city centre would be “largely traffic-free”, will form the start of a long consultation process with the public.
Key roads across Edinburgh will be closed to traffic once a month in what will also be a Scottish first. The traffic-free days, which could shut down areas including Portobello and Stockbridge, are due to start early next year.