Car parking charges more practical than overnight tax

Caol and Mallaig councillor Ben Thompson brought the issue to light after hearing the affect business rate increase could have on businesses in his ward.FW Councillor Ben Thompson 1no JP. Abrightside Photography
Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson says car parking charges across the Highlands is a way to raise tourism money without affecting small businesses. Photograph: JP. Abrightside Photography

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The tax that would charge visitors a small fee to stay in the Highlands was put up for public consultation in August and the report will be discussed at next Monday’s full council meeting.

There is support for adding a pound or two per night stayed in the Highlands as the money is expected to go towards improving tourism infrastructure.

The initial consultation received 5,622 responses to the online questionnaire aimed at residents and tourism businesses, the second part of the consultation was 950 face-to-face questionnaires with Highland visitors.

Convener of the council’s Tourism Working Group Bill Lobban praised the high number  and ‘strong geographical spread’ of responses, and thanked those who took part.

He said: ‘It was not an exercise just to gather information on people’s support or opposition. It also gave those taking part lots of opportunity to help us shape what an optimal levy for Highland might look like, were it to be implemented.’

It is estimated the levy could generate between £5m and £10m every year.

Supporting the idea in principle, Caol and Mallaig councillor Ben Thompson thinks the unique nature of the Highlands needs a different solution.

He said: ‘We need a method of implementing it that works across the Highlands, as what works in Edinburgh or Inverness might not work well in Glenfinnan or Spean Bridge. We have a huge number of very small family-run B&Bs, and they’re the backbone of our rural accommodation. We should be encouraging and helping them, not penalising them.’

His concern is that a levy on overnight visitors per room is a heavy burden on small businesses and it exempts day trippers and motorhome users.

Councillor Thompson’s solution would be to charge for parking in council car parks.

He said: ‘Today there are several hundred publicly-owned completely free car parks across the Highlands that could raise as much or more as a £1 levy, without any new bureaucracy at all or targeting of small family businesses. Alongside charging tourists to park, we should introduce a Highland parking card for residents that either exempts or dramatically reduces their cost to park.’

In the council’s budget, fees from car parking are already reserved for transport infrastructure, be it improving older elements like roads and bus services, or adding new ones such as motor home waste disposal.

Chairman of the Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee, Allan Henderson, agreed that more money should be spent to support the important tourism sector.

He said: ‘Tourism is our most important and valuable industry, worth over £1.2 billion per annum to the Highland economy. We have seen significant increases in visitor numbers in recent years and we aim to continue to build on these successful trends.

‘However, to do this we need to invest in this highly competitive sector and manage the effects large numbers are having on the region’s services, resources and infrastructure.’

The results of Highlands consultation will feed into that of the Scottish Government which has committed to introducing legislation for local authorities to implement TVLs in 2021.