Edinburgh Councillors vote to consult on Workplace Parking Levy

Thursday September 14th 2023

Edinburgh Car park Menzies

Car park in Lochside Avenue, Edinburgh.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

A bid by Edinburgh’s transport chief to put the breaks on plans to introduce workplace parking charges in the city has been outvoted.

Councillor Scott Arthur had called for a pause to the scheme so the “predictable negative consequences” on low-paid workers could be further investigated.

The authority has been mulling over proposals for a workplace parking levy (WPL) since last year and will now launch the first consultation to get the public’s views on it.

SNP councillor Danny Aston accused the transport convener of “cherry picking” facts and “ignoring, in large part, the benefits that a WPL can bring”.

Under the plans, employees could be charged as much as £650 a year to park at work if businesses choose to pass the cost on to their employers.

Officials say a levy has the potential to bring in over £12 million a year to reinvest in public transport and active travel, whilst helping to achieve the council’s ambitions to reduce congestion and cut car journeys by 30 per cent by 2030.

Key details about what it would look like, including the charge, boundary size and which workers, for example NHS staff, would be exempt, will be decided following the consultation if the scheme is progressed.

Councillors have previously said the charge should be “no less than the current annual cost for public transport,” a report said, adding the cheapest annual bus pass in Edinburgh was £650.

Nottingham, which already has a WPL in place, charges drivers £522 per year and brought in over £25m in its first three years.

Paul Lawrence, Edinburgh Council’s director of place, said the goal to reduce journeys made by car in the city by 30 per cent would be hard to achieve without “demand management measures” such as a WPL.

However he added it should not be seen as a “financial stream” but rather a ”policy to create behaviour change”.

Cllr Arthur said he remained concerned about the impact on “low paid workers who do use a car” as well as part-time workers and shift workers. He added that parking being displaced to residential streets around workplaces was also a problem that would need to be addressed.

“I think there’s still uncertainty around those key impacts,” he said.

“It’s our feeling that at this point it would be wrong to consult on a plan without really putting to the public the options for addressing some of these issues.”

The transport convener said the council needed to come up with a “firmer plan” before putting it to the public.

A report presented to the Transport and Environment Committee today said reducing traffic “disproportionately benefits those living in deprived communities, because those living in deprived communities are both more likely to experience higher levels of local air pollution from vehicles and are more susceptible to the effects of that pollution”.

It added: “It is also likely that the majority of people who drive to work and park in dedicated workplace car parks will be from middle and higher income household.”

Cllr Arthur said “predictable and non-trivial negative impacts of a WPL” had not been adequately addressed yet. “Such a scheme must not worsen inequality between residents in our capital,” he added.

An amendment tabled by Cllr Arthur called for all work on the consultation to be stopped “until robust mitigation options are presented to the committee” however did not manage to gather enough support outwith his own group, with the Conservatives voting to scrap the scheme altogether and SNP, Lib Dem and Green councillors in favour of proceeding with public engagement.

“It’s not that I’m ideologically opposed to a workplace parking levy,” the transport convener said, “it’s just that my party and the trade unions have real concerns about some of these impacts.”

Councillor Kayleigh O’Neill, Greens, urged the committee to not get “pulled back by scaremongering”.

She said: “Those most hard hit by the cost of living crisis are more likely to rely on public transport.

“Running cars are expensive and we want more money to go into public transport.

“Most people have a travel charge to get to work in the form of a bus pass anyway, if anything I think we’re levelling the playing field a little bit.”

Highlighting benefits other cities have seen, Cllr Aston said: “Labour-run Nottingham funded an entire new tram route spur from their workplace parking levy as well as a number of other programmes and sustainable travel improvements.

“There’s every reason to believe Edinburgh’s would raise even more than that, I think the incentives are clear.

“I have to be honest I don’t think it’s particularly helpful that bits of this report have been cherry picked and you’re trying to present it as the whole story here.

“You’re ignoring, in large part, the benefits that a WPL can bring in reducing congestion, transforming public transport and active travel and most importantly freeing low-paid workers from being forced into expensive car ownership which they would not necessarily choose otherwise.

“Why cancel this now before we’ve asked anyone what they think about it?

“Let’s not abandon all this work done by officers at this late stage or kick it into the long grass.

“The SNP will listen very carefully to the responses that come back, especially from the trade unions.”

Conservative Councillor Marie-Clair Munro said: “I think many residents in Edinburgh work very hard and how they choose to spend their money and on what mode of transport is down to them, as many need their cars not only to get from a to b but for childcare, looking after elderly residents.”

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