Evening News launches battle to stop car park charges planned for beauty spots

THERE was a growing outcry today over plans to introduce parking charges at a string of popular Lothian beaches amid fears that visitors will be driven away from the beauty spots.

Residents and businesses attacked East Lothian Council’s bid to introduce a £2 fee on parking at 13 beaches as councillors questioned whether it would raise anything like the £1 million estimated.

The council said it will invest the money it raises in “coastal regeneration” but critics warned the “tourist tax” charges will drive away visitors and harm local businesses.

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Today the Evening News joins the fight against the plans by launching our Keep Beaches Free campaign.

Dunbar resident Neil Munro, 43, who campaigned against a previous bid to introduce charges four years ago, said: “I don’t see why the council should be able to impose charges for the use of natural resources. It’s going to impact particularly on the people who live near the beaches and use them regularly.

“There is nothing to say that there will be a discount for people who live near the beach, and even if there was it would still drive other people away.”

And Stephanie Da Costa, 21, a sales assistant at the Old Smiddy gift shop in Longniddry, said: “This is a really bad idea – I’m totally against it.

“One of the main reasons people come to East Lothian is for the beautiful beaches, if these charges come in they will go somewhere else. Tourists make up the bulk of our sales so it would affect us as a business. The charges should be dropped.”

Jane Burns, 33, a teacher from Longniddry, said: “I think the idea is appalling. I can walk to this beach but I have lots of friends who have to bring their cars.”

The planned charges would apply to Longniddry Bents; Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve; Gullane Bents; Yellowcraig; Linkfield, Dunbar; Shore Road, Dunbar; Tyninghame Links; Skateraw; Whitesands; Barns Ness; and Thorntonloch.

The ruling Labour group has asked officials to see if the charges can be introduced this summer.

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The proposal 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. This time round, the Labour administration will have to rely on the support of its Tory coalition partners – and they have already raised questions over the scheme.

SNP group leader Councillor Paul McLellan said: “This figure of £1m is totally unrealistic, we’ve seen the figures and they just don’t add up – they’ve just plucked that out of nowhere. A previous paper had said they would raise £300,000 at most.

“The real fear I have is that it will affect business and tourism, which is the county’s biggest industry.

“We spent £600,000 on beaches in the last administration and had already pledged a further £1 million without plans to introduce charges.”

Labour leader Willie Innes, who said season tickets would be available to frequent visitors, said the figures would stack up.

“East Lothian Council is in a difficult financial position and we are having to make difficult decisions,” he said.

“I think a £2 charge to park on the beach is reasonable.”