COMMUNITIES are to be allowed to bring forward their own proposals to introduce parking charges on a “town by town” basis under a new Local Transport Strategy approved by East Lothian Council.

Plans to include on-street and off-street town centre charges as an option in a new parking management policy had been proposed by council officials.

But at a meeting of councillors in Haddington on Tuesday, there were calls for a compromise which would give the power to local residents.

In an amendment to proposals, Scottish Conservative councillors called on the council to take a stance against charges in principle but consider their implementation on a town by town basis after consulting with communities.

The amended proposals were unanimously backed by the Labour administration but SNP councillors warned the decision had “given the green light” to parking charges being introduced.

The amended policy, which was introduced by Councillor Jane Henderson (Con), opposition leader, states that the council will “assess the demand on town centre parking supply and appraise on an individual town by town basis, taking into account the views of local people and, where appropriate, introduce charging”.

It adds that any proposed charging scheme will be brought before councillors for approval and adds: “The primary view of the council is not to charge for off-street car parks and/or on-street parking places; however, schemes will be permitted on an individual basis if need and local support for such a proposal can be demonstrated.”

Ms Henderson said: “It is important our towns are considered individually. It is very clear that Musselburgh is a very different place to North Berwick and the same can be said for Dunbar.”

But Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader, accused Conservative councillors of naivety.

He said: “They have just given the green light to officials to go ahead and start consulting on introducing town centre charges.”

And he warned introducing charges in his constituency town, Musselburgh, would “kill the High Street stone dead”.

Both the Conservatives and SNP included opposing town centre parking charges in their election manifestoes last year.

Councillor Norman Hampshire, Labour, expressed disappointment in the decision to amend the original proposal.

He said: “We have massive growth in East Lothian and every single town centre is being affected. The income from car parking charges if introduced would greatly benefit the communities.”

Officials argued that parking charges could be used to encourage people not to abuse the short-term parking zones and help local businesses by creating a bigger turnover of use of the spaces.

Alan Stubbs, the council’s roads service manager, said the strategy was a “visionary document”.

He said: “It will allow us to consider various options, not just for parking but active travel.”

The amendment was approved by all seven Conservative councillors and eight Labour administration councillors. The six SNP councillors all voted against.

The parking charges policy is part of a major Local Transport Strategy which will see £69million invested in East Lothian’s roads and transport over the next five years.

The council said it would invest £50million in maintaining and renewing roads with £5m on transport interventions, £3million on parking improvements and a further £10million to promote active travel, with a further £1 million earmarked for road safety.

The parking management policy also includes the option to review coastal car parking charges, with the possibility of adding new sites, expanding existing sites or removing some sites from the charging policy.

A report on the impact of coastal car park charging, which is in place at 10 of the council’s 13 sites, is to go before council in February. Sites which do not charge are at Skateraw, Thorntonloch and Aberlady Nature Reserve.

Additional changes included in the now-approved parking management strategy and which could be introduced include extending the residents’ parking area to cover Stoneybank to Eskview in Musselburgh, as well as introducing a ‘clearway’ through the town centre – where no stopping is allowed – and additional designated long-stay car parking facilities at Gracefield, Fisherrow and Olivebank Road. There is also consideration of introducing a controlled parking zone in the town centre which would require people to park in designated bays and have appropriate permits.

In North Berwick, there are proposals to extend the existing residents’ parking area to include Beach Road and Westgate; introduce a ‘clearway’ on Dirleton Avenue, Station Hill, Station Road, Clifford Road and East Road; and the potential for a new car park on St Margaret’s Road or multi-storey on the Glebe.

A residents’ parking zone could be introduced on Dunbar High Street with a ‘clearway’ on Spott Road and Queen’s Road.

In Haddington, there is potential for a new long-stay car park on Whittingehame Drive and Station Road, and a new car park between West Road and the A6093.

Tranent could see a park and ride introduced on Edinburgh Road, as well as a ‘clearway’ through Bridge Street, High Street and Ormiston Road.

A controlled parking zone is also being proposed for Prestonpans High Street.