A shake-up of parking charges in Elgin has been put forward by Moray Council in an attempt to free up spaces in the town centre.
The wide-ranging proposals include introducing fees in Cooper Park and nearby North College Street West where motorists are flaunting waiting times.
Under the new rules, which could come into force in April next year, drivers parking at the train station would also have to pay up to £5 a day. Currently, there is no charge.
However, reduced rates have also been proposed for the Batchen Lane multi-storey car park and elsewhere for short stays.
Last night, the proposals were given a cautious welcome although fears were raised that Elgin could become a “cash cow” in a time of looming council cuts.
Elgin City South councillor John Divers said: “Parking is something that needs to be looked at seriously, myself and Graham Leadbitter have been calling for it for years.
“Elgin is the only area in Moray where we charge for parking and we have areas in the town at Edgar Road, and possibly a second one coming with Grampian Furnishers, where there will be no charge.
“We need to make sure there is no detrimental impact on the town centre from what we do. My concern is that, as the council faces cutbacks, Elgin could be used as a cash cow.”
Mr Divers hopes reducing the Batchen Lane fee from £4 per day down to £1 will encourage shoppers to use it more – revealing it can be “only 10% full” on Saturday mornings.
A new 30 minute price of 50p for town centre locations, including North Port, St Giles, Northfield Terrace and South Street, has also been recommended for approval.
A review of parking in Elgin was initially proposed as part of the charette consultation two years ago.
Since then transport officers have done studies which have found a lack of enforcement has led to abuse of waiting times in free spaces.
Officials believe introducing charges in Cooper Park and North College Street West, so council staff can enforce time restrictions, will create room for library users.
Elgin City South councillor Mr Leadbitter said: “Enforcement is always challenging because the cost can often be more than the income you achieve – it isn’t always a good solution.
“The challenge with parking is that it’s a bit like a balloon – if you squeeze it at one end it bulges at another. We really need to look at town centre parking broadly.
“It’s clear there are significant issues but the solutions aren’t necessarily easy.”
Gill Neil, manager of Elgin’s business improvement district, welcomed the proposed introduction of an extra coach stop and free parking after 3pm during the festive season as positive steps.
She added: “We acknowledge that the parking issue was one that needed looked at and had hoped for an element of free parking would have been considered.
“Elgin remains the only area in Moray subject to charges. This puts additional pressures on a business who face pressures that other towns do not, such as out-of-town developments with free parking.”
The parking review will be discussed at a meeting of the council’s economic development committee on Tuesday.
In a report, transportation manager Nicola Moss, said: “Historically, the car park waiting restrictions (in Cooper Park) were set to allow library users ample time for computer use or meetings.
“However, in practice library users are not able to use the three-hour limited waiting parking as it is already occupied by 9am, with many vehicles staying beyond the three-hour limit.”