Drivers will be asked to decide what is a “reasonable charge” for parking in East Lothian’s town centres as part of a new consultation.
Proposals to introduce on-street and off-street charges as well as short stay spaces and residential zones will be included in the public consultation which will start next month.
Council leader Norman Hampshire, Labour, told a virtual council meeting on Tuesday that residents in town centres were “living a nightmare” because of parking problems, warning: “Doing nothing is not an option.”
However, concerns were raised about ensuring people across the county were able to have their say in the ten-week consultation, with claims some of those most affected were often “least heard”.
Conservative councillors refused to back the consultation, saying charging people in the current cost of living crisis would damage high streets as people would stay away.
Conservative Councillor Lachlan Bruce told the meeting: “We are less than two months out of a local government election when no party included introducing parking charges in their manifestos.
“It will harm our town centres and local businesses.”
Council officers said introducing on and off street parking charges could bring “significant income” to the local authority.
But they said a ‘reasonable charge’ would have to be established to ensure it did not drive people to out-of-town shopping centres such as Fort Kinnaird.
Councillor Hampshire said the pressure on residents in some towns who could not find parking spaces near their homes had to be addressed.
He said: “Doing nothing is not an option, we will damage our town centres if we do not do something for the people who are living there who continue living in a nightmare, not able to get parking spaces.”
However Councillor Bruce questioned whether charges would drive people out of towns at a time when shops needed business more than ever.
He said: “I do not understand how we can have a town centre first policy but introduce a policy which will discourage people from using the town centre.
“This proposal comes at the same time as we have a surge in the cost of living and it will make it harder for some people to use town centres.
“It will make it harder for people who need a car, coming in from rural communities or with mobility issues.”
Councillor Lynn Jardine, SNP opposition leader, welcomed the “extensive consultation” and urged fellow councillors to ensure as many people as possible were encouraged to take part and have their voices heard.
The consultation was approved by 16 votes to three.