Business leaders have opposed the reintroduction of parking charges in Elgin in August, arguing that an extra six months is needed for firms to find their feet following the pandemic.
This comes after Moray Council announced on Wednesday that charges at the town’s 15 pay and display car parks – including multi-storey ones – would resume from next month.
Moray Chamber of Commerce has co-signed a letter with Elgin BID, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Visit Moray Speyside calling for the council to extend free parking to help encourage people back to the region.
Sarah Medcraf, chief executive of Moray Chamber of Commerce said delaying car park charges would help in drawing people back into the town centre.
She said: “We understand the need for the road closures to allow for physical distancing and this has been largely welcomed by many of the businesses in the centre, but this has been noted as a barrier for some visitors coming to the town.
“Therefore, extending the free car parking for additional months will help alleviate some of these hurdles.
“Elgin town centre already has the disadvantage over retail parks offering free parking, but as you know we have some fantastic businesses within Elgin town centre and we want to encourage people to visit, not put barriers up. ”
Mrs Medcraf argued that having free car parking for a longer period would help people returning to work with less cash spare to spend on parking.
She added: “We would also like you to take into consideration that 30% of Moray’s workforce have been furloughed, and with many employers unable to make up the difference in wages, many have been on 80% and would not have the surplus cash for car parking.
“As per the Scottish Government Route Map, office workers will not be returning until around September where possible.
“Therefore the council would not be achieving its usual occupancy levels so it is difficult to quantify the amount of money that would be lost if the council were to delay reinstating the car park.”
Chief executive of Visit Moray Speyside Laurie Piper said the reintroduction of car parking charges at such an early stage was the “wrong thing at the wrong time.”
FSB’s development manager, David Groundwater, said that increasing use and potential economic spend across the region should be welcomed and not blocked by a “cash barrier”.
He added: “In challenging economic times for businesses on our high streets and in our towns, it is important that the parking policy is reflective of the local area and used as a lever to support the local economy and not used to create a barrier.”
Elgin Bid’s chief executive Gill Neil added that the decision caused “concerns” for their members.
Business groups would welcome consultation for the charges leading up to 2021.
While council leader Graham Leadbitter said that restarting parking charges from August was a “pragmatic approach” but understands the decision will not be “universally liked.”
He added: “At the moment we are projecting a £5.5million net cost as a result of Covid-19, from a combination of increased cost in some areas but, significantly, in lost revenue.
“Car parking charges generate in excess of £800,000 year in Moray and is a significant contributor to the council’s income.
“We are constantly reviewing the council’s finances as things become clearer but at the present time, with all the financial information that we have, this is the position that we are in.”