OVER-ZEALOUS parking controls in Inverness city centre are making life "intolerable" for hardworking tradesmen and driving them out of town, business leaders have warned.
Charlie Barbour, who owns The White House cocktail bar and bistro in Union Street and has been involved in refurbishing a number of properties, said tradesmen were being put off bidding for work in the city centre because of the difficulties they experience.
"There are so few places they are allowed to park in the city centre now that doing any work they get is incredibly problematic," he said.
"They have to park further away from jobs and then add in all the time it takes to unpack their vans, lug the equipment to wherever they are working and, of course, to get it all back again.
"Time added on their part means costs being passed on to customers and I know several who say they’re rethinking whether it’s even worth quoting for business in the city centre as a result. The whole situation is quite intolerable."
Duncan MacArthur of Aspen Design and Build said his firm had carried out renovations to the Black Isle Bar in Church Street last year, before the recent crackdown, and worked well with previous wardens.
"We would be reluctant to even tender for such a project in the town centre now due to the parking restrictions," he said.
"We have very few pay and display spaces available and the loading bays, although empty most of the time, are not available to use. I fear that the new system is going to add additional costs to shopkeepers getting work done which will make it unviable to renovate or fit out the ever-increasing number of empty shops in the town centre."
A team of new traffic wardens hit the streets of Inverness last October.
They are on duty seven days a week, between 8am and 10pm and came as a shock to many drivers who had previously enjoyed a parking free-for-all following the departure of the police wardens.
IDC Electrical owner Mike Rigby said: "With the traffic wardens, the maximum parking we can get is for one hour, which is nowhere near enough if you think about the time it takes to get all your equipment out, get in and do the job and then repack. It’s having a huge impact in terms of doing work in the city centre."
David Mustarde, owner of DWM Joinery, said parking restrictions had also made things "very difficult" for him but he was "hopeful" the council could come up with a workable solution.
But a spokeswoman for Highland Council has defended its tougher parking regime, saying the introduction of decriminalised parking enforcement had been widely publicised in advance and the public was consulted on draft traffic regulation orders before they came into force.
"In addition, the council offers tradespeople up to an hour’s parking in Inverness city centre at any time to carry out necessary works, or time to drop off or pick up tools and equipment at either end of the working day between 8am-9am and 5pm-6pm, with approval of the parking enforcement team," she said.
"The enforcement team are ensuring that city centre streets are being managed to the benefit of all users."
However, Mr Barbour said it was clear things were not working and there was a danger that both city businesses and infrastructure could suffer as a result.
"On the one hand we have council officials, members and the general public saying what a shame it is that buildings are in a state of disrepair, and on the other the council are making it nigh on impossible for anyone to do work in the town centre because of their unreasonable attitude towards the requirements of tradesmen and property owners," he said.
"With the traffic wardens operating from 8am to 10pm seven days a week, it is hugely frustrating for everyone concerned."
He suggested traffic wardens should only operate Monday to Saturday from 10am-4pm, arguing there is "no need" for them outwith these times.
He added various designated areas should be made available to tradesmen for parking by prior arrangement. Tradesmen should also be able to leave their mobile numbers in their windscreeens and be ready to move if required.
"The whole system needs to be more flexible and to recognise the particular needs of this group of people, otherwise the whole enforcement regime looks less about trying to manage parking for the benefit of all and more just like an out and out money-making exercise by the council," he said.