ORGANISERS of a protest against controversial plans for coastal car parking charges in East Lothian hope hundreds of objectors will support the stand next weekend.

More than 570 signatures have been added to an online petition against proposals by East Lothian Council's Labour/Conservative/independent administration to introduce a daily �2 charge at 13 sites along the county's coastline. Business owners, sports clubs and community councils have spoken out against the policy since it resurfaced in June, having been scrapped by the SNP/Lib Dem coalition in 2008 after Labour initially proposed it in 2007.

A day of opposition is now taking place next Sunday (July 29) at Longniddry Bents, Gullane Bents and John Muir Country Park, Dunbar, led by the East Lothian SNP Group, which has branded the proposed fees a "tourism tax".

Administration councillors have warned that the local authority faces cutting its budget by �12 million in the next three years.

They predict that coastal parking charges could raise up to �1 million annual towards the maintenance of the county's coastal facilities, and free up money to protect frontline services.

Councillor Paul McLennan, SNP Group leader, told the Courier: "East Lothian SNP is asking those who are against coastal car parking charges to attend a day of action and show their opposition to these charges being imposed.

"Since these plans were made public, we have been overwhelmed by the level of opposition to this tourist tax.

"It's an ill-thought policy that will not generate any substantial income to the council and may indeed make a loss.

"It's a policy that has seen business after business oppose as they know it will impact on the number of visitors that come to the county.

"Tourism is our biggest industry - why should we propose an effective tax on it?

"Councillor Willie Innes (council leader) has also stated he expects to raise �1m from the charge, but can't back up the detail.

"The administration should drop this policy now." Of the day of action, he added: "There will be speeches, we'll be asking people to contact their local members or contact the council itself, and there will be an opportunity for a question and answer session.

"People might come along with a different view, but there are pretty strong feelings on it. It's more about having a presence on that particular day, just to demonstrate the opposition to it." Mr Willie Innes (Labour) told the Courier that he was unaware of the planned protests.

He told the Courier: "The problem is that we are in a position where we've got a fixed income and rising costs, and if we don't identify any additional income streams then we'll be cutting valuable services.

"[The protest is something] we'll have to take into consideration but I think, at the end of the day, we've got a responsibility to protect the services in East Lothian.

"Equally, if we were to cut education services, we could get a bigger demonstration from parents and pupils, given that education is the biggest chance a child has of succeeding in life." Not every member of the ruling coalition is in favour of coastal car parking fees. Conservative Michael Veitch, depute council leader and Dunbar and East Linton ward member, is personally opposed to the move - despite his party's support for it.

Mr Innes said he remained "confident" that the figures added up, saying: "We have got a sophisticated counting system in the council and it tells us we have approximately 450,000 visitors to our car parks [per year], and if there was a �2 income from each of these visitors, then that raises a significant sum of money.

"That would be reduced by annual tickets, but it would still - I anticipate - be in the region that we are talking about.

"I suppose it would all depend on the weather as well, and the kind of summer we are having, but there is the opportunity to raise significant income." Mr Innes hopes to implement the charges "at the earliest opportunity".

The issue was debated at Monday's meeting of Dunbar Community Council.

Labour councillor Norman Hampshire, cabinet member for environment, told members: "Every penny that's raised from coastal car parking has to be spent where the money's raised, so it will lessen any impact that there will be due to reduced investment in coastal areas - and the car parks really suffering badly with the number of people accessing them." But, community councillor Jacquie Bell - who was a Lib Dem administration councillor when the previous policy was scrapped - said: "It's not going to make the money. After the council election in 2007 it was looked at twice by the last administration and it just wasn't going to be a money-maker."