A PUBLIC meeting is set to be held tonight in Nairn amid concerns about the implications of introducing new parking charges in the town.
The move is mooted in Highland Council’s proposed budget, unveiled last week as part of a multimillion-pound savings and finance-generating package to balance its books.
The Association of Nairn Businesses has invited residents and community groups to the gathering in the Royal British Legion Hall at 7pm after it was revealed that under the proposals going to council for approval this Thursday four currently free Nairn car parks are in line to begin charging users within the next year – at the library, harbour, Cumming Street and The Maggot.
Michael Boylan, who is steering the town’s ambitions to establish a levied business improvement district scheme, said the town’s future was being placed in danger by the plan.
"To have parking charges put upon the town does nothing but make people think twice about visiting, as well as impacting the pockets of the local community," he said.
"There’s been no public consultation and if the budget is voted in at the Highland Council budget meeting you have to wonder what impact any consultation after the event would have.
"We invite anyone within Nairnshire to attend our meeting and have their say on these proposals."
Charges are also being proposed for other currently free car parks at Chanonry Point, Alness, Dingwall, Ullapool, Kyle and Lairg while car parks which already carry a fee could see that increased to a minimum spend of £1 for an hour, with additional costs for every additional hour.
The proposals have led the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to warn of the potentially significant impact the moves could have on its members.
Highlands and Islands development manager David Richardson said: "Many high streets are really struggling and there is a very real danger that the introduction of parking charges will merely encourage more shoppers to visit supermarkets or out-of-town retail parks, where parking is free.
"Accepting that Highland Council is under financial pressure, it is possible that some locals and visitors will be prepared to pay modest parking charges if they know that all surpluses raised will be ring-fenced for maintaining and improving car parks and roads.
"However, they will not be happy if these charges become yet another form of taxation, increasing every year to bolster council budgets."
The parking charges proposal is just one of a number of changes across all service areas being proposed by the council as it attempts to plug a £15 million budget black hole.
Alongside the loss of 51 jobs there are also proposals for a three per cent council tax hike, the closure of significant numbers of play parks and the introduction of a 50p charge for many public toilets, with others facing closure.
A spokesman for Visit Scotland said that the council should be investing in local amenities, not cutting them, to encourage tourists to the Highlands.
"From exploring the vast wilderness of the north Highlands to enjoying the vibrant culture of Inverness, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this very special part of the world," he said.
"These visitors have major implications for the area’s economy. Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it is integral to sustaining communities across Scotland by generating income, creating jobs and stimulating social change.
"While we understand changes to infrastructure are required it is important for communities and industry to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible during their time in the region and we would encourage any investment and innovation to ensure that current provision meets future demand."