Free Sunday parking in Aberdeen could soon come to an end – as calls for equality among faiths look likely to become a “council money grab”.
North-east Muslims have told of a “desperate choice” between parking illegally or missing the most important prayers of their week at Friday lunchtime.
Leaders at Aberdeen Central Mosque have even urged worshippers to miss the Jummah as Frederick Street and its surroundings are overrun with problem parking.
It became such an issue that council roads chiefs were tasked with looking at whether parking in the nearby council car park could be made free to accommodate the increase in traffic.
Christians have been afforded free parking on Sunday mornings in Aberdeen for decades, allowing them to drive to church free from financial barrier.
Previously, Imam Ibrahim Alwawi told The P&J that his call for free parking for all worshippers – he did not limit calls to only benefit Muslims – was about “equality for all houses of worship”.
Charging for parking near churches could ‘increase Aberdeen City Council revenue’
But rather than extending free parking other days of the week, council chief operations officer Mark Reilly instead has proposed equality should mean everyone has to pay.
In a report prepared for the city transport committee, he wrote: “The introduction of charges on a Sunday in line with the other days of the week removes the disparity for the faiths across the city.
“And it helps ensure parking availability for blue badge holders, residents and businesses by assisting in turnover of vehicles and it will attract income from our assets.”
As the local authority grapples with expected cuts of £83 million over the next four years, he added: “The charging of parking in council on-street and off-street facilities could be expected to increase revenue for Aberdeen City Council.”
Within the city centre controlled parking zones, the council counts 14 churches, three mosques and a synagogue.
Worshippers gather at these various venues on – at least – Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Mr Reilly highlighted that making parking free for specific services and prayers would mean making spaces free for all drivers at any proposed site.
“This would be expected to raise demand for parking in specific areas, at certain times, thereby potentially reducing the availability of spaces from current levels,” he noted.
City chiefs also worry toll-free parking could discourage people from cycling or walking, leaving the car at home.
‘Astonishing money grab’ blasted by councillors of all faiths
But Aberdeen Labour leader M Tauqeer Malik, who first asked Marischal College bosses to extend free parking, was “astonished” at what has come back.
He told The P&J: “It seems to be based on income generation rather than helping those of all faiths throughout the city.
“I certainly do not want to see the end of free parking on a Sunday between 8am and 1pm.”
The Lower Deeside councillor doubled down on calls for free Frederick Street parking between 11am and 3pm on Fridays as the best solution, adding: “Aberdeen is an extremely tolerant city with a multicultural outlook.
“Its citizens appreciate the importance of many faiths and do so in harmony and respect to all.
“So to turn this into a money grab shows the council in an extremely bad light.”
‘Shamefully wrong’ to impose Sunday morning parking charges in Aberdeen
Meanwhile, independent councillor Jennifer Stewart was lost for words when she heard “appalling” financial barriers could be imposed on Christians too.
She had already been fighting to extend free parking around the Catholic St Mary’s Cathedral in Huntly Street, as Sunday services run right through the afternoon.
Mrs Stewart said: “Councillor Malik was trying to do the right thing. While officers have written the report, I am sure this will have been driven by the SNP and Liberal Democrat administration.
“It is shamefully wrong to have to pay to park to go and worship, whatever your church is and for the council to try and raise funds this way.
“It does seem the council wants to target faith communities – and I would say that’s driven by the SNP.”
Claims ‘out of touch ideologues’ threaten city centre business
But, for the Conservatives, the free parking is not only an ecumenical matter.
Their transport lead on the council, Duncan Massey, said Sunday morning free parking was a “pragmatic measure”.
“It encourages many people to come into the city on a Sunday or Saturday night, as well as being beneficial for residents,” he said.
“This proposal highlights once again that this SNP and Lib Dem administration are out of touch ideologues who are wholly anti-motorist, anti-business and have no qualms damaging our city centre, on top of the existing mess.
“We believe this cash grab measure will push more people away, and as a result will likely cost money.”
‘Identify a budget’: Free parking needs to be backed with council cash
Transport convener, and Lib Dem council co-leader, Ian Yuill responded – placing the burden on those complaining to find the money to extend free parking instead.
He told us: “These proposals from council staff are the result of a motion from Councillor Malik, which highlighted potential indirect discrimination.
“It is important that council policies, including parking rules, treat everyone fairly and equitably.
“I look forward to hearing the views of councillors when the committee discusses this on Tuesday.
“If councillors wish to propose an extension of free parking, they are welcome to do so if they can identify a budget.”
SNP councillors declined to comment on Mrs Stewart’s claims them targeting Aberdeen faith groups.