Leader comment: Any help for city centres is welcome

A plan to charge companies for their workers' parking spaces is well worth consideration. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
A plan to charge companies for their workers' parking spaces is well worth consideration. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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The desire to keep town and city centres alive is not always compatible with the understandable drive to improve our environment.

We may despair at the pitiful sight of high streets, the length and breadth of the country, that once buzzed with life and are now characterised by their boarded-up shop fronts and neglected buildings. But we know, too, that busy streets mean increased pollution.

And so some balance must be found which allows towns and cities to thrive while encouraging a more environmentally friendly approach to their day-to-day running.

Edinburgh is luckier than most towns and cities when it comes to sustaining local businesses. The capital city’s skilled workforce and regular stream of tourists means there is great support for city centre shops and other companies. But this success, inevitably, has an environmental impact.

And so we are always willing to listen to suggestions for how pollution in Edinburgh might be reduced without a negative impact on business.

The city council’s transport and environment committee might have a workable solution.

Under plans being considered, companies could be charged for allowing employees and even customers to park outside their offices.

A similar scheme in Nottingham sees companies charged £402-per-annum for each private parking space they own, with the money being invested in the city’s transport network. The logic is sound – if a company adds to congestion by encouraging employees to use cars, then why shouldn’t it help to offset that environmental damage by investing in public transport?

But before we rally behind this proposal, we’d like some reassurance that it is both reasonable and potentially effective.

Businesses, already burdened with a range of costs, may take some persuading that being charged hundreds of pounds for each parking space they use is fair. If costs threaten to run into many tens of thousands of pounds for larger employers which have private car parks, then there is surely a risk of them choosing to relocate outside the city centre.

No city – even one as vibrant as Edinburgh – can afford to adopt policies that drive away employers.

Increasing taxes is sometimes a heavy-handed answer to problems that requires a more thoughtful solutions.