MOTORISTS could be hit in the pocket again as another review of car park charges gets under way.
Highland Council is looking again at how much money to take from drivers after budget figures revealed income from car parks is expected to fall £400,000 short of the estimate.
A report for this week’s places committee said the shortfall was a result of "over ambitious targets" as well as a loss of income from selling the car park adjacent to Rose Street in Inverness.
Finance officers have estimated an income of £836,000 by next April, falling £400,000 short of the original £1.236 million target.
Committee chairman Allan Henderson hopes that finance bosses will write off the income target but said a review of charges will take place as part of the re-design board set up last year to make the cash-strapped council more efficient.
"The car park budget was set too high in the first place, it was never going to balance out," he said. "Certain things like having fewer tourists in the winter and losing the income from the car park across from Rose Street were not taken into account so the estimates were never going to be achievable.
"I hope this estimate can be written off by the finance department because it was unrealistic. It is not that we have lost any money, it was that we were never going to earn what was estimated."
Car park charges have been commonplace in towns such as Inverness, Fort William and Portree but areas including Caithness, Dingwall and Nairn, which have previously enjoyed free parking, could soon have to fork out too.
Councillor Henderson said: "The review will be looking at more realistic charges all over the Highlands.
"The review is part of the re-design to make the council more commercial so we will be considering everything."
The report for Wednesday’s (August 16) places committee also said income from car parks is likely to increase as motorists use the designated spaces to avoid the wrath of parking wardens, who have been issuing fines for illegal parking.
It stated: "The estimated pressure of £400,000 is based on over ambitious targets set in previous years and the loss of income from selling the top deck of the Inverness multi-storey car park.
"Income from decriminalised parking enforcement with the displacement of parking to council-owned car parks will help alleviate part of the pressure."
But this may also be ambitious as just last month Cllr Henderson admitted taking responsibility for parking enforcement, passed to the council from the police last year, has been a "massive burden" on the local authority.
It costs the council around £450,000 per year to keep wardens on the streets and £550,000 was spent on start-up costs last year, but last month the Courier revealed only £262,830 had been clawed back in fines since October.
Cllr Henderson said at the time: "This has never been a money making scheme for the council and we have never had targets of how many fines we want to give.
"We were landed with parking enforcement when Police Scotland gave it up because we need to keep traffic flowing and our streets clear but it is a massive burden to the council."
The same figures revealed Inverness drivers had borne the brunt of the fines, with 5618 issued in the city alone.
Lochaber also took a hit with 725 tickets and nine were dished out elsewhere in the Highlands, although the council could not specify where. Some of the fines were cancelled following complaints and formal appeals.