Capital forces drivers to pay up or go green

THOUSANDS of motorists in Scotland's capital will have to pay up to £240 a year more to park their cars under radical plans aimed at encouraging people to switch to greener vehicles, The Scotsman can reveal.

Owners of the biggest gas-guzzlers in central Edinburgh will see their annual parking permit fee increase from 160 to 320 under the proposed scheme, which will also see owners of "second" vehicles pay up to 400 – 150 per cent more than current charges.

The charges would be based on a vehicle's emissions for cars registered after 2001. Older cars will be graded according to engine size. Fees will also vary for cars parked in the city's central zones and those in the outer areas.

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The owner of a Lexus IS 250 who currently pays 160 to park in the inner zones or 80 for the outer will see their charge double to 320 or 160.

And a motorist who applies for a second permit to cover a Volvo C70 2.4i will see a rise of 240 in the inner zone and 120 in the outer districts.

However, thousands more motorists will benefit from the proposals, with owners of the least-polluting cars seeing the cost of their permit plummet to 30 for those living in the city's central parking zones, and 15 for those in the outer zones, where permits cost 80.

So the owner of an Audi A32.0 TDi parking in the centre of Edinburgh will pay 30 less and a Mini Clubman Cooper D driver, living in the centre of the capital, will see a reduction of 60.

Edinburgh city council claims that the plan, which would be the first of its kind in Scotland, will financially benefit two-thirds of permit holders, with 20 per cent paying more and 14 per cent unaffected.

But the plans, to be considered by councillors next week, are sure to be controversial, with many motorists struggling to deal with the high cost of fuel and already facing proposed increases in road taxes.

Many families will also be hit in the pocket by a proposed 25 per cent surcharge on second permits – meaning households with several car owners are likely to suffer the most.

The move is intended to encourage people to switch to less-polluting vehicles – and tackle complaints from residents who say they cannot find a space to park despite owning a permit.

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Robert Aldridge, the council's environment leader, told The Scotsman it was "reasonable" that motorists who own 4x4s and other big polluting vehicles should pay more.

He said: "There is a national acceptance that more needs to be done to influence the vehicle choices that people make. If this is to happen, then local authorities need to play their part and take action to bring about local change.

"It is clear to me that, with ongoing monitoring identifying several key locations in the city where levels are causing concern, it is our responsibility to take measures designed to make city centre residents consider the impact that their vehicle choice has on our city."

There are currently about 17,000 permits in Edinburgh, an estimated 3,500 of which are for "second cars".

A report to be discussed by the council's transport, infrastructure and environment committee next Tuesday will state that the scheme will make relatively little difference to council revenues, with an anticipated 50,000 reduction in the 1.7 million that is generated from parking permits every year.

The report signals that owners of vehicles with large engines, and which emit large amounts of , are likely to be increasingly targeted by local authorities as well as central government, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown is driving forward plans to impose swingeing road tax increases for many.

"(The] national acceptance that measures need to be taken ... should be seen as an indication that local authorities should also be prepared to take appropriate actions to bring about local change," the report states.

Taking their cue from London scheme

CONTROVERSIAL "differential charging" schemes for parking permits in London have provided the inspiration for Edinburgh's latest plan to tackle air pollution and congestion.

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Andrew Mackay, the author of the report that councillors will consider next week, looked at similar charging schemes in Camden, Richmond and other boroughs.

Richmond was the first local authority to link the price of residents' parking permits to engine emissions, in 2006. A survey revealed 49 per cent of residents supported the idea, while 39 per cent were opposed. Two-thirds of respondents suggested the plans would make them consider buying a less-polluting vehicle.

The Liberal Democrat council has since gone further, introducing plans to charge parents up to 75 a year for parking permits allowing them to drop their children off on the school run. A pilot project will start in September.

The move in Edinburgh, which is governed by a Liberal Democrat/SNP coalition, follows a Lib Dem manifesto commitment before the 2007 election to consider a scheme like the one in Richmond.