Margaret Davidson was handed 1,000 letters of protest yesterday in Inverness, as part of mounting opposition to plans to start applying fees at council car parks which have previously been free.
The proposals have been “built in” to budget plans to plug the council’s £15m black hole – but have been hugely unpopular.
More than 1,000 letters of protest were handed over yesterday at a full council meeting from a Dingwall-based campaign group led by community councillor George Murray.
Ms Davidson’s comments are the first indication the council is open to reconsidering the matter of parking charges after previously insisting that matter was closed.
When asked if the plan was set in stone Mrs Davidson said “It is not, it is a local matter and Ross and Cromarty will decide whether Dingwall should go ahead.
“We are still considering the issue of parking charges, we are drawing up a policy, and we will be talking to area committees.
“The one thing is clear that we built into our budget over a million pounds of income from car parking charges, exactly what car parks that is introduced to at the end of the day that is still subject for debate.
“The main part about the million pounds this year is about putting up charges where they already are,” adding those towns “don’t feel they should be subsidising the rest of the Highlands.”
But Mr Murray said towns like Fort William, Inverness, and Aviemore are in a different economic situation as they are located in areas visitors naturally gravitate towards.
He said: “Those towns have tourist attractions like Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms and Inverness is the Highland capital – Dingwall and Nairn have to work harder to attract people.”
“The damage to Dingwall could be devastating at exactly the moment when we are glimpsing a little light at the end of the tunnel.
“With the charges the Highland Council has found a way to hurt not help the town and its businesses. A little support would go a long way and we are still ready to engage positively.”
Budget Leader Alister Mackinnon defended the introduction of fees to secure “grass cutters, street cleaners, special needs teachers and teaching jobs”.
He said; “That’s the unpalatable truth unless we deliver an increase in revenue of £3million. If they don’t like the car parking charges let them come up with alternatives.”
Dingwall and Seaforth Councillor Graham Mackenzie said there was no time to properly develop counter proposals as they only had a weekend to do so.
He said: “That is two days, the administration have had nine months to put this budget together so it is hardly surprising that no one came forward with any alternative budget proposals.
“If you add that to the fact that we don’t have access to the accounts and the officials that the administration do – it is a red herring.”
His fellow ward Councillor Margaret Patterson confirmed she would resign from the administration if there was no consultation on whether the fees are introduced.
She said: “I cannot stay and work with a group that are not brave enough to admit they got it wrong on this occasion. I personally think you have.”
(Taken with thanks from the Press & Journal)