Campaigners are asking people opposed to the proposed parking levy at 13 beauty spots in East Lothian to turn out next weekend and send a clear message to the council’s Labour group, which is behind the plan.
Three separate protests are planned on Sunday, July 29 at Gullane, Longniddry and Dunbar, the three busiest of the beach car parks affected.
And today SNP opposition leader Paul McLennan claimed public pressure could help sway councillors’ votes and stop the charges.
Labour runs the East Lothian administration in coalition with three Tory councillors and one independent. But Tory group leader Michael Veitch has come out against the parking fees. And with Tory Provost Ludovic Broun Lindsay not expected to take sides, the position taken by remaining Tory, Tim Day, could prove crucial.
Councillor McLennan said: “If two Tories voted against the charges, it would be 11-11. Tim Day is under a lot of local pressure from his own area. And there are some members of the Labour group who have serious concerns. If we could persuade Tim Day and one switherer from Labour, that would be enough to defeat this. Or if Labour thought they were going to lose they might withdraw the proposal anyway.”
The charging plan – expected to be formally proposed at the next full council meeting on August 28 – would see a £2 per day parking fee introduced at all beaches owned or managed by East Lothian Council.
Labour council leader Willie Innes has said it would raise almost £1 million which would be ploughed into coastal regeneration. But critics have branded the charge a “tourism tax” and warned it will deter visitors, put local businesses at risk and penalise East Lothian residents who need to take their car to the beach.
SNP councillors, local business people and residents’ representatives are expected to address rallies at each of the protest sites.
Cllr McLennan said: “We’re asking people to come out and demonstrate the strength of feeling against these plans.”
He said people would also be asked to add their signatures to the call for the council to abandon the plan. “The opposition to it is very strong. People have been stopping me and saying they will not be able to afford to go and walk their dog on the beach because it will cost them £2 every time,”
The 13 car parks affected are Longniddry Bents Nos 1, 2 and 3; Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve; Gullane Bents; Yellowcraig; Linkfield, Dunbar; Shore Road, Dunbar; Tyninghame Links; Skateraw; Whitesands; Barns Ness; and Thorntonloch.
Tide of support
Hundreds of people have given their support to the Evening News campaign to keep East Lothian beaches free. Since our drive was launched last month, more than 440 readers have signed our petition calling for the plans to be dropped.
The proposals sparked anger among residents and business owners alike – many of whom believe the charges could threaten the county’s status as a tourist destination. The plans also came under fire from pensioners’ groups, who claim the elderly and infirm will be the worst hit if the fees go ahead.
Beaches in West Lothian and Edinburgh are free, as are those in Fife, with the exception of Aberdour
Silver Sands where visitors pay £1.20.