Loss of free parking a ‘backward step’

Peterhead councillor Anne Allan says she will be voting to retain the free parking period
Peterhead councillor Anne Allan says she will be voting to retain the free parking period

A Peterhead councillor has described plans to end free parking periods in the town’s Pay and Display council car parks as a “backward step” and “detrimental to Peterhead town centre”, ahead of a crunch council vote this week.

SNP councillor Anne Allan’s comments come after Conservative and Lib-Dem members of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee tried to begin the process of removing free parking periods from council Pay and Display car parks in November.

A counter-proposal from opposition councillors – which they claim would instead have balanced the car parking budget while retaining a half-hour free parking period in all towns was defeated by nine votes to five, with Conservative and Lib-Dem committee members voting against.

However, the bid to scrap the free period at that stage was blocked after opposition councillors insisted that any decision on the change be taken instead by all 70 councillors at this month’s meeting of the full council.

Speaking ahead of this Thursday’s debate, Cllr Allan said: “Introducing a free parking period was a key pledge made by SNP councillors standing for election in 2012 and we campaigned strongly on this issue, working across party lines with other councillors get it introduced.”

She fears that if shoppers are forced to pay for making even a brief stop-off, many customers will choose to go instead to the supermarkets.

“All the feedback suggests that having this short free parking period has helped sustain town centres,” said the Peterhead North councillor.

“Removing it will be detrimental to the town centre and I will be voting to support local shoppers and local businesses and retain a free parking period when this is debated next week.”

At the ISC meeting in November, chairman Councillor Peter Argyle stressed that around 75% of all parking remained free in the region’s towns through off-street spaces and said there were no proposals to change that.

He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not ending free parking in Aberdeenshire. Seventy five percent of all the places off-street and 100% of all the places on-street where people can park in Aberdeenshire are currently free and there is absolutely no proposal to change that.”

He said the focus was on the free element within the 25% of paid-for spaces which had lead to a huge impact on the budget which was “not sustainable”.

He said at the time: “We want to share the cost of parking fairly for all the people who use Pay and Display car-parks. We want to encourage motorists to stay longer in our town centres and hopefully spend more money while they’re there.

“We’re not seeking to make a profit. If there is any surplus then it will be reinvested into the transport service.”

But the chairman of a business group has echoed local concerns and vowed to fight any loss of the free hour’s parking.

John Pascoe of Rediscover Peterhead said if the council progresses the proposal then it will have 220 Peterhead town centre businesses actively opposing it.

He stated: “If we’re serious about taking a town-centre first approach in this then the council needs to stick with the status quo and retain free parking. Quite simply this is a retrograde step which Rediscover Peterhead will actively oppose.”

He said the focus was on the free element within the 25% of paid-for spaces which had lead to a huge impact on the budget which was “not sustainable”.

He said at the time: “We want to share the cost of parking fairly for all the people who use Pay and Display car-parks. We want to encourage motorists to stay longer in our town centres and hopefully spend more money while they’re there.

“We’re not seeking to make a profit. If there is any surplus then it will be reinvested into the transport service.”

But the chairman of a business group has echoed local concerns and vowed to fight any loss of the free hour’s parking.

John Pascoe of Rediscover Peterhead said if the council progresses the proposal then it will have 220 Peterhead town centre businesses actively opposing it.

He stated: “If we’re serious about taking a town-centre first approach in this then the council needs to stick with the status quo and retain free parking. Quite simply this is a retrograde step which Rediscover Peterhead will actively oppose.”

Meanwhile in the neighbouring town of Fraserburgh councillors have also slammed the potential loss of the free one-hour parking limit.

Brian Topping and Charles Buchan say they have listened to the concerns of both local businesses and customers over Aberdeenshire Council’s proposals to drop the free parking element in its Pay and Display car-parks as well as increasing charges.

Councillor Buchan said: “The free period has been a great success, in that the usage figures have gone up significantly.

“This must be good for the town, getting more people into the town centre and helping business trade.

“Free parking is an important part of our regeneration programme. The proposed removal of this benefit will badly hit the vitality of the town centre. Taking away the free period, and hefting the charges, will end up disadvantaging both the council and the town.”

Councillor Topping, who chairs the Fraserburgh Regeneration Partnership, added: “We supported the introduction of the free hour in order to make it easier for people to shop in the town, and this has been successful.

“People can make purchases in the town, and transact business, without having the hassle of paying for parking.

“Removing the free period will be a big blow to the sustainability of many of our businesses, and the jobs of employees.”