In all the furore surrounding the inclusion of a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) in the SNP Budget many people seem to have forgotten that the City of Edinburgh Council actually agreed to ask the Scottish Government for these powers in August 2018.
The aim was to reduce congestion, improve air quality; enhance conditions for walking, cycling and public transport use; and, raise revenue for transport improvements.
Whilst that decision appears to have been forgotten, the current debate has forced me to think more deeply about the some of the problems that would come with WPL.
What is beyond doubt, however, is that Edinburgh is growing and the road network is struggling to cope. This makes parts of our capital fairly unpleasant, and the resultant air quality problems are a particular risk to children and those with health problems.
The first proposals for WPL were actually made by Harold Macmillan’s Tory Government in 1962-4. These proposals, however, noted that WPL can force parking elsewhere, does not reflect journey length, does not target peak traffic and once the charge is paid it does not influence the number of journeys.
Harold Wilson’s 1964 Government did not take these proposals forward. In 2000, however, legislation did enable English councils to enact WPL and 12 years later Nottingham introduced the first (and only) UK scheme.
Nottingham introduced the charge not to raise income, but to solve the same congestion problem Edinburgh faces. Unlike Edinburgh (so far), however, Nottingham worked with neighbouring authorities to ensure the charge did not cause problems at the city boundary. The charge started deliberately low, then slowly increased over time – this gave employers (and employees) time to adapt. Exemptions for small businesses mean that only 40% of employers pay the charge. The income was used to fund transformative improvements to public transport.
Nottingham’s experience has been positive, so it is right that we undertake a dialogue with the public to see if it would work in Edinburgh. Any income should not be used to backfill cuts, but must be used to transform active and public transport. Lastly, if introduced in Edinburgh I will argue that Edinburgh’s Councillors and Holyrood’s MSPs are first in line to pay the charge.