Baxter slams council’s justification to block festive parking break

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Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor Andrew Baxter has hit out at attempts from Highland Council leaders to justify their decision to block Lochaber councillors’ plans to remove parking charges in Fort William over the festive period.

Mr Baxter resigned as chairman of the council’s education and housing committee recently after a decision made by the Lochaber area committee to introduce two hours free parking for six weeks in the run up to Christmas was overruled by what he termed ‘the Inverness mafia’.

Highland Council has since stated that the decision to block the Lochaber committee’s proposal was based on their car parking policy. Leader of the council, Margaret Davidson, said because this, the Lochaber committee ‘was not able to take this decision at that time’.

She continued: ‘We need to be mindful that the council is currently overspent by  £2.2million and we are doing everything possible to bring this overspend down by year end.’

However, Mr Baxter described this as ‘a load of nonsense’.

He said: ‘The council agreed in June that for 2018/19 only, any shortfall in area car parking income was to be underwritten from the overall community services budget. Far from creating a shortfall in car parking income, Lochaber is paying tens of thousands of pounds extra into the council coffers compared to the last year.

‘It is other areas that are putting pressure on council budgets by failing to introduce car parking charges as agreed in this year’s budget. Why should places like Dingwall, Nairn and Wick avoid paying when we’ve been paying here in Fort William for decades?

‘It seems that it is one rule for Lochaber and another for the Leader of the Council’s chums in Dingwall.’

The issue of Fort William Christmas parking will be considered at the Highland Council’s next meeting on Thursday December 13.