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Free parking bid moves up a gear in Inverness as calls grow to help boost Highland capital's economic recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and lockdown

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillor Andrew Jarvie wants to see no parking charges on city centre streets to help businesses during easing of lockdown. Picture: Gary Anthony
Councillor Andrew Jarvie wants to see no parking charges on city centre streets to help businesses during easing of lockdown. Picture: Gary Anthony

A CAMPAIGN for free parking to help Inverness’s post-lockdown economic recovery is gaining momentum.

Highland Council’s administration will be put under pressure at a meeting on July 30 to suspend on-street parking charges at pay-and-display bays.

It comes after Mike Smith, manager of Inverness Business Improvement District (BID), last month called for Rose Street and Eastgate Shopping Centre car parks to be free.

The council brought back parking charges last Monday after suspending some during lockdown. All contract parking schemes are set to be reintroduced from July 31.

Meanwhile, Moray Council will not reintroduce parking charges in Elgin until at least the end of August, a move that could be extended to October when its councillors meet next month.

Highland Tories want free parking across the region, with time limits on motorists using busy locations like the city’s Church Street. It would also include lucrative multi-storey car parks like Rose Street which is said to bring in around £200,000 per month in parking fees.

“I have seen many other councils doing everything they can do to keep their local economies afloat,” said Conservative group Andrew Jarvie, who will put forward a motion for free parking to the full council meeting.

“Many councils have kept parking free to incentivise people to help save shops.

“This is something the council is directly in control of and can make a fantastic difference with. Yet this council wants to press ahead with taking in a depleted income from high streets on their knees.

“What is the value in making a quick buck this year, if there isn’t a high street left to make money from the next?”

The Courier’s Park the Charges campaign, backed by Inverness BID, led to a period of 15 minutes’ free city centre parking which boosted businesses.

Mr Smith said: “BID thinks it is really important as part of the marketing mix for the city centre or the other areas. It is one of those factors that does affect the decision of whether to come to the city centre.

“We would welcome the withdrawal or the reduction of all charges for a period of time which would stimulate some much-needed footfall.”

Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol described the idea as a really sensible, pragmatic and positive step for the city centre.

“It would certainly help the retail sector that is needing all the support it can get,” he said. “I also think that it is a positive message to give to city centre traders.

“If the clear message was that the city centre has free time-limited parking, there would be lots of turnover and frequency. That means folk can come to the city centre, do a bit of shopping, load their car up and then they are away again.”

David Richardson, regional development manager with the Federation of Small Businesses, thought it was the sort of immediate support that high streets need now.

“The more we spend with local businesses, and the sooner we start spending it, the greater their chances of survival and the stronger our communities will be,” he said.

“Highland Council has a massive contribution to make in helping to ensure that it is as easy, enjoyable and desirable for people to visit local high streets as possible, and this means looking after motorists.

“As we slowly restart the Highland economy, businesses will expect the council to keep parking charges as low-cost as possible and to refrain from introducing any new car-unfriendly measures that encourage people to avoid high streets. We must keep trade local to survive.”

Parking permit renewals will be available online from August 3.

When announcing the return of charges, a council spokesman said: “As streets get busier we need to maintain access to businesses and services for all.”

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