Visitors to 13 popular beaches across East Lothian are set to be hit with a £2 charge for using the council’s car park facilities if proposals put forward by the Labour group are approved.
The group hopes the scheme could raise up to £1 million, which would be invested in the regeneration of the coast.
There has been criticism, however, from businesses who say many of the car parks are in too poor a condition for a charge to be imposed.
Despite the money which the charge would bring in – and a commitment to spend it on improving visitor facilities on coastal sites – a council spokeswoman confirmed there were no plans up upgrade any of the 13 car parks affected by the charges in the near future.
Malcolm Duck, owner of The Ducks Restaurant at Aberlady, home to one of the beaches where visitors could be charged to park, branded the plan “nonsense”.
He said: “I think it’s an absolute disgrace. It’s like saying to visitors ‘Welcome to East Lothian, now we’ll charge you for everything!’
“If it was a proper car park I could understand but for the one at Aberlady Bay where we are it’s an absolute nonsense.
“The car park is very small and it’s not manned. We all pay taxes and rates – why do we need another charge?
“East Lothian Council is usually pretty good but this is stupid. It’s mad.”
Mr Duck added he had not been aware of any consultation with businesses over the plans.
A bid to introduce coastal car parking charges was first put forward by Labour when it was in power in 2007, but was scrapped by the last SNP/Lib Dem coalition the following year after facing a fierce campaign of opposition from local residents.
Now that the proposal has been put back on the table, opposition group the SNP has vowed to block the measure, branding the charge a “tourism tax”. The new administration argues that the charge would be a good way to bring in much-needed revenue at a time when budgets are stretched to the limit.
If the plans get the go-ahead, fees could be introduced as early as this summer.
Fiona Duncan, the manager of the Maitlandfield House Hotel in Haddington – near another of the affected beaches, Yellowcraigs – also hit out at the state of the car parks.
“I think it’s awful,” she said. “You can hardly call Yellowcraigs a car parky, it’s a grassy area with holes on it that you have to drive over. It’s not a proper car park and neither is the one over at Gullane.”
Labour group leader Willie Innes has defended the proposal. “We are currently spending over half a million pounds through general services in the coastal areas, which we wouldn’t have [available] to spend in future if there was no revenue from coastal car parking,” he said.
“I think it would enable to us to significantly invest in facilities and improve our coastline in terms of tourism and economic development.”