PLANNED parking charges in Saltcoats, Kilwinning and Irvine will accelerate the demise of town centres and local businesses already struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic and stay afloat during the cost-of-living crisis, councillors have been told.

Thousands have signed petitions demanding the proposals be scrapped in light of the current economic climate.

However, North Ayrshire Council officers have warned that if fees are not brought in at 10 short-stay car parks throughout the area then further budget cuts must be found to make up the £440,000 in annual income expected to be generated from the disputed move.

Decriminalised parking enforcement (DPE) was first proposed to be introduced across North Ayrshire in June 2019 and backed by the full council in September of that year, before the outbreak of the pandemic put the plans on hold.

In March 2022, the council approved tariffs of £1.50/one hour, £2/two hours and £3.50/four hours for 10 short-stay car parks, however, it was later agreed to reconsider the level of charges proposed “in light of the deepening financial crisis”.

The car parks where charges will apply are: Vernon Street, Bradshaw Street, Windmill Street and Kirkgate in Saltcoats; Almswell Road and Oxenward in Kilwinning; Kirkgate, West Road and East Road in Irvine; and Gateside Street in Largs.

READ MORE: Councillors to discuss petition calling for Kilwinning parking charges to be scrapped

At a meeting of the council’s audit and scrutiny committee this week, commercial services officer Thomas Reaney said: “A key desired outcome of introducing DPE and parking charges is an improved regulation of traffic in our town centres by directing long-stay patrons to park slightly further out, in free areas, and providing chargeable short-stay parking close to retail and town centres to get a turnover of parking.

“Sustainability and climate change are also at the heart of this proposal - encouraging more active and sustainable modes of transport and reducing car usage.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, petitions were presented on behalf of Kilwinning traders, Saltcoats traders including flower shop Little Blossoms, in Windmill Street, and Pound Express in Dockhead Street, and on behalf of Billy’s Barbers and other Irvine shopkeepers.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Petitioners argued their case at the audit and scrutiny committee meeting on November 15Petitioners argued their case at the audit and scrutiny committee meeting on November 15 (Image: LDR)

A spokesperson for the Kilwinning petition said the “absurd” proposals are “unfair” and will create “inequality”, while criticising a lack of public consultation so far.

He said: “Where does the money come from to put in a parking meter when food banks and heat banks are required to help families in these times of austerity?

“In our opinion, North Ayrshire Council is attempting to monetise car parking in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, to earn free money from the work of shopkeepers and employees’ hard work.

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“In these times, this is an absolutely abhorrent action to take not just against us but against every single one of our valuable customers because by targeting us you are putting their community at risk.

“You have the petition numbers: our community voted you in, they are now saying they will vote some of you out.

“The Kilwinning people will not forget who put this in place behind the public’s back.

“More noise can and will be made. The council is in place for the people, not the other way round.”

William Frew, who runs Billy’s Barbers in Irvine’s Bank Street, said businesses will effectively be “discriminated against for being in the town centre”.

He added: “Bringing in parking charges in the current climate is absolutely madness and unbelievable. It really shows that [the council] don’t have the town centre's best interests on their agenda.

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“The demise of Kilmarnock in the town centre is a direct result of the introduction of pay and display.”

Gerry Houston, who runs Pound Express in Dockhead Street, said the proposals will push people further towards supermarkets and retail parks and punish independent, family-run businesses.

He said:”We have no issue with traffic wardens. Now you’re having a cash-grab to try to justify paying for the traffic wardens.

“This doesn’t help any business and it doesn’t help any resident.

“As councillors you should be helping to keep people in the town and not pushing people out.”

The changes could be implemented in July 2023, however, the committee accepted the petitions and referred them to the council’s cabinet meeting in January where they will be considered further.

A public meeting is also planned for December in the Argyle Community Centre in Saltcoats, organised by local traders.