High Street Robbery

In the past, this scribe has criticised East Lothian Council (ELC) for its economic innumeracy. As examples, it couldn’t make its pie-beans-and-chips staff canteen wash its face, so they leased it to two ladies who turned it into the money-spinner of The Loft; wholly owned Enjoy Leisure, a sink for public money, can’t see how Bannatyne’s turns a profit in the same business; they fail to license ice cream stands along their 30 miles of beaches, foregoing thousands in income to RLC. It’s classic clunky corporation cluelessness.

But…haud oan…what’s this? An initiative to raise an extra £1m to bolster empty council coffers without going cap-in-hand to the Scottish Government or whacking up Council Tax above their 10% hike this year? Has ELC finally found its fiscal mojo? After announcing it a year ago and going out to consultation at the end of last year, they have decided to impose parking charges in town centres. Much to the surprise of visitors, until now, parking has been free.

An enlightened approach to solve parking, congestion and encourage green travel? Well, that’s what it has been presented as. In truth, it is a further example of stodgy narrow-mindedness characterising the administration controlling one of the most pleasant and affluent areas of Scotland. So “Town Centre Parking Management: Introduction of Parking Management Proposals in North Berwick” was approved 17-4 at a virtual council meeting on April 25th, 2023. 

Sadly, for 23 of its 28 year-existence, ELC has been dominated by Labour, who have yet to show understanding of the jewel in their hands. Slow to exploit being on tourist-magnet Edinburgh’s doorstep, they instead revelled in Provost limo, special allowances for ‘senior’ colleagues and free access to the biggest private box at Musselburgh racetrack. That theirs was the fastest-growing area in the country was pure luck.

Readers who have never visited North Berwick won’t know its historic High Street, bustling with interest. Since the 1950’s, there have been a myriad of schemes to deal with growing congestion and limited parking, decades before ELC came along. They all came to naught, and this was for a reason. Despite Labour running ELC, North Berwick declines to vote Labour. 

This has led to many behind-the scenes tussles, such as an attempt to break the North Berwick Trust (failed); close the outdoor pool (succeeded) and short-change the town at every turn (succeeded). You only have to study planning consent for Kirk View to know that it blocked any hope of a viable E-W traffic alternative to relieve the High Street.

The town centre plan prior to this one is not yet five years old. A charette, involving virtually every interested party in town hammered out a traffic and parking solution acceptable to everyone. It sat gathering dust until, as with earlier plans, ELC threw it out and started again. Because the charette had specifically ruled out parking charges. ELC has form on seeking consultations until it gets the answer it wanted. And so, this umpteenth consultation blithely states:

“With East Lothian having a growing population and being a popular visitor destination, we need to achieve a balanced and sustainable approach which meets parking needs, whilst ensuring our town centres remain vibrant and attractive places in which to live, work and visit.”

—Councillor. N. Hampshire, ELC Leader

To be fair, the final parking plan does take comments on the proposals from last November on board:

  • Extending free parking from 30 minutes to 45 minutes  (Traders)
  • Increasing the long-stay maximum from 5 to 6 hours (golfers)
  • Professionals who require to park on streets will be able to apply for exemptions (Carers and Health workers)
  • Free parking on Sundays until 1pm (church-goers).
  • Reduce the original four zones to three zones
  • Residents living in them will no longer be restricted to spaces marked as resident only but will be able to park in charging spaces in their zones.

Welcome though such adjustments are, the fact remains that all town centre streets and car parks will levy £1 per hour, while residents will pay £40 for a resident permit to avoid this. The only long-stay car park will be at the rugby ground, which is a 1km walk to the main shops. There will be no extra parking, no town shuttle bus and all this will be enforced by the same “blue meanies” who plague drivers in Edinburgh.

Just how Cllr. Hamshire sees all this as a “balanced and sustainable approach which meets parking needs, whilst ensuring our town centres remain vibrant and attractive” is entirely unclear.

In fact, Traders, Area Partnership, Community Council and many residents consider this betrayal of community cohesion displayed by the charrette. Some see it as a cynical mugging of the most economically successful town in the county, likely to dissuade locals and visitors alike from using the town centre. It risks the demise of retail vitality—as happened when Berwick-Upon-Tweed introduced parking charges.

Indeed, ELC’s 2018 North Berwick Town Centre Strategy piously records, in Section 5.3:

  • “The town centre is well used and there are a wide range of uses represented in the town centre. Residents do the majority of their convenience food shopping here.”
  • “83% of people who live in North Berwick visit the town centre weekly; 26% visit daily, 60% use it in the evening.”
  • “North Berwick has the highest proportion of shops, cafes and restaurants out of all 6 settlements in East Lothian.”

North Berwick’s formula for success has evaded wastelands, as Kirkcaldy, Falkirk, etc. have not. It offers a template to follow for other towns in the county—none of which are getting parking charges. But then, they vote Labour; ELC regards North Berwick as a cash cow.

“Charging people to park in the town centre would not benefit local businesses and could, in fact, damage them.”

Councillor J. Findlay, Ward Member

#1069—970 words

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
This entry was posted in Commerce, Community, Politics, Transport. Bookmark the permalink.

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