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Highland councillors have voted in favour of allowing free parking in Fort William over the festive period.
Lochaber councillor Andrew Baxter’s proposal to introduce six weeks free car parking for up to two hours in the town’s central short stay car parks was approved by a large majority at a full Highland Council meeting last Thursday (December 13).
The two hour free parking break is now in effect.
The decision comes after council leaders originally blocked a decision made by the Lochaber area committee to introduce free parking in the run up to Christmas – a move which led Mr Baxter to resign as chairman of the council’s education and housing committee.
Now, after consideration from the full council in Inverness, the Lochaber area committee’s decision to introduce free festive parking has been honoured, albeit more than two weeks after the parking break was to be introduced originally.
The motion was seconded by fellow Lochaber councillor Niall MacLean, who said that Lochaber is ‘a massive contributor’ to the Highland Council’s parking revenue and has raised more money in the last year than ever before and ‘residents and businesses are annoyed’ revenue is not gathered equally among council wards.
Lochaber councillor Denis Rixson also supported the motion and said that fairness was the main issue at stake. ‘It is in the interests of residents that we make this concession to Fort William. We made this decision not in spite of Highland Council but because we were told we had the power to do so.’
Councillor Allan Henderson put forward an amendment to challenge Mr Baxter’s motion at the meeting, which proposed using the ward discretionary fund to pay for a period of two weeks free parking in the run up to Christmas. He argued that the six week break in parking charges could cost the council between £10,000 and £28,000.
However, this received only 14 votes in contrast to the motion’s 45 votes.
Fort William Retail Association chairman Drew Purdon was pleased with the decision but vowed to continue working for fairer parking charges across Highland region.
‘We are not giving up the fight for parity with Dingwall, Alness and other towns that don’t pay for parking in the Highlands. We can’t let this slip.’
He added: ‘This is one of the biggest anomalies in local government at the moment.’