VAT blunder halts parking charge plans

A BID to impose unpopular car parking charges at Lothian beauty spots is set to be scrapped because council officials forgot to add VAT.

A “clerical oversight” is being blamed after it emerged that the figures for charging visitors to the Pentland Hills Regional Park do not add up.

The blunder was today described as an “elementary mistake” which has scuppered a scheme in the planning since early last year.

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Campaigners who had fought against the charges have welcomed the news.

Officials did not factor in that VAT would have to be paid when predicting that a £2 charge at the car parks at Threipmuir, Harlaw, Bonaly, and Flotterstone would bring in £35,000 a year.

The option of increasing the ticket price was ruled out and officials are instead likely to go back to the drawing board.

David Bewsey, a member of the Colinton Amenity Association, said: “They should finally scrap this and forget about it.

“It hasn’t been properly thought through and it doesn’t surprise me there’s been an oversight on the VAT. Just hink of all the projects the officials could have been working on and all the money wasted. It’s a complete waste of time.”

The charges were being considered as part of attempts to fund the park’s £288,000 annual operating costs currently met by the four Lothian councils.

The scheme would have cost £25,000 to set up but when VAT was taken into account, annual takings would fall to just £28,000. To make matters worse, Midlothian Council said it would not enforce the charges at Flotterstone – reducing takings to £14,000 a year.

In a report to the Pentland Hills Regional Park committee which meets on Friday, David Jamieson, parks manager at the city council, states that the scheme is no longer viable.

He says: “VAT must be levied for off-street parking. It is now apparent that VAT would apply to charges in the regional park.

“This was not accounted for and means that 20 per cent less income would be realised.”

He adds there was “a significant risk” the income would not justify the imposition of charges and at worst might actually cost the council to charge drivers.

The Pentland parking scheme had faced huge opposition from local residents but was pushed through by the Liberal Democrat/SNP coalition.

Trudy Allan, secretary of Balerno Community Council, said: “It’s an elementary mistake for people who are supposed to know what they are doing.”

A spokesman for Midlothian Council said it had ruled out charges because it would have resulted in drivers parking instead on the access road and the A702, which had “obvious safety implications”.

Conservative councillor Jason Rust, who represents Edinburgh’s Colinton/ Fairmilehead ward, said: “I am particularly concerned that the VAT situation has only come to light now. The sooner this scheme is dropped the better. It is obviously impractical.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said the problem had been a “clerical oversight”.

“It’s unfortunate this option hasn’t proved viable but our parks and greenspace service is progressing with alternative strategies to realise savings.”