As Edinburgh begins the gradual process of easing of coronavirus lockdown, councillors need to review decisions made back at the start, says Claire Miller.
As lockdown was introduced back in March, many things changed overnight because public bodies had to respond swiftly to the serious emergency.
One of those things was the suspension of pay and display parking charges. This happened in many towns and cities, on guidance from the British Parking Association.
Pay and display is a charge that applies to on street parking in areas of the city where there is usually high demand for space.
In normal times it’s a way to ensure everyone gets a fair crack at finding a space because the longer you park the more you have to pay.
Right at the start of this crisis the city decided to enable key workers to access parking space without paying charges. It was also important to make sure residents didn’t need to unnecessarily move vehicles, because we all had to stay at home to stay safe.
However, the Scottish Government has started a route map out of lockdown and people are now beginning to move around the city much more than they had been during the very strict rules that were initially in place. Transport Scotland has reported significantly increased volumes of vehicles on the roads.
This means that there is an increase in pressure for a finite number of parking spaces, and the pressure is not coming from key workers, it’s coming from the general relaxation of the strict lockdown rules. A return to our previous levels of congestion and air pollution looms.
The council therefore has a role to play in ensuring the fair and safe use of space in the city and re-introduction of pay and display parking charges is one way to be able to influence behaviour.
There are strong policy and safety reasons for bringing back pay and display charges. It would prevent highly-sought after street space being taken up, while freeing up space for residents with valid permits. Since permits are usually bought on an annual basis, most residents in the busiest areas will already have those permits so they have most to gain from the change.
There is also the effect on local businesses. In the last few days, the Federation of Small Businesses has been arguing that free city centre parking should be part of the recovery for cities and local centres. However, that is contrary to evidence of the power of the “pedestrian pound” which shows that commercially vibrant neighbourhoods are those which prioritise people walking, wheeling and on bikes. In the city, we expect that businesses serving local people will have no problem attracting customers who are eager to be able to go out, buy things they’ve been putting off, and get back to normal.
Alongside all of this is also the budget. At the moment, the council has had additional costs or lost income of over £100m due to the necessary emergency response to Covid-19 and is on track for an overspend of over £56m by the end of the current year.
These costs are essential to ensure that residents are housed, that bins are emptied, and that people get the care they need, but it does mean that the council’s budget is under extreme pressure.
With only £17m of additional funding so far from the government, the council urgently needs to collect charges which are needed to provide it with the resources to carry on operating these essential services and keep the city running.
That is why I am proposing that the next phase of recovery from lockdown should include the re-introduction of the normal parking regulations. It’s the right step for safety, to reduce congestion, for residents, for the economy and for the council budget. It would be even better if Edinburgh can agree to do it in step with the other largest Scottish cities so that there isn’t a ‘postcode lottery’, so I will be raising this at COSLA too.
Beyond that, of course, we need to look again at the sheer amount of street space which is allocated to parking compared to other uses with higher amenity or environmental value to our residents. That will be critical to our city’s future prosperity and a subject I’ll be returning to when we are in more stable times.