PLANS to suspend on-street parking in town centres in East Lothian have been ‘put on hold’, after an outpouring of public anger at the proposals forced a council u-turn.

East Lothian Council received £1.4million from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People project to allow it to prepare for shoppers to return to the county’s high streets.

However, the announcement of plans to suspend parking, including loading and unloading, across nearly two kilometres of town centre trading streets on Friday sparked concern among retailers and local residents.

Temporary traffic orders were supposed to come into force on Tuesday and run until the end of the year.

And across the town centres, cones and no parking signs appeared over the weekend as preparations for the plans began.

However, protests forced the local authority to withdraw the town centre proposals and yesterday (Wednesday) East Lothian Council confirmed it was no longer going ahead with its plans.

Other measures already proposed for the Spaces for People grant will go ahead, including temporarily reducing speed limits in all six East Lothian towns to 20mph and introducing some new and temporary cycle lanes.

A council spokesperson said: “Having taken on board further feedback in recent days, we can confirm that the introduction of measures focused on town centres will be put on hold at this time.

“This will allow for more consideration and dialogue on the best way forward for everyone, including further discussion with the valued local businesses on which our communities depend.”

Nine Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) were announced on Friday, suspending parking and introducing no waiting, loading and unloading restrictions on the streets included.

In Haddington, there was an outcry on social media as town centre residents suddenly found cones out across parking spaces on High Street, Market Street and Court Street, along with signs announcing parking had been suspended “to assist social distancing”.

The council moved to reassure people by insisting the TTROs issued were simply a “mechanism” to allow it to redesign parking in some town centres, and on Monday said that Haddington town centre would still have more than 100 parking spaces available, with only about two dozen re-allocated.

One shop owner told of her devastation at finding the cones outside her store just a week after it had begun trading again.

Joanna Gibson, who is chairwoman of Haddington Business Community Partnership, said on Facebook: “These plans are to remove nearly every single car parking space for the town centre. If this is about social distancing then the whole town needs to be closed down.”

Scottish Conservative Councillor Craig Hoy, who spent the weekend speaking with local retailers and residents, welcomed the change of plans by the council.

He said: "I am relieved to see East Lothian Council taking their original Spaces for People town centre plans off the table.

"Our high streets are just finally starting to open up and the last thing they need is large scale disruption. There are clearly measures we can take to ensure people feel safe and secure as they shop, but the overall package of measures was disproportionate.

"Many retailers and residents expressed real fears about the impact on the loss of parking and the deployment of barriers in East Lothian town centres and I am very glad the council has taken on board these concerns."

Other parking restrictions included in the temporary orders were:

- A parking suspension order for over half a kilometre of on-street parking on North Berwick’s High Street, Quality Street, Church Road and Market Place, and closure of part of High Street;

- Suspension of parking on Musselburgh High Street with the closure of part of Shorthope Street;

- Parking suspension on Prestonpans High Street for 65 metres;

- Suspension of parking along Tranent High Street, Bridge Street and Winton Place;

- Suspension of parking on part of Dunbar’s High Street and Countess Road.

However, yesterday the council said these restrictions would no longer go ahead.

Instead, it said that while “the temporary extension of pavement space in town centres will not be implemented at this time, other measures to promote safe active travel and exercise, such as the introduction of 20mph speed limits in towns and electric bike hire, will be taken forward”.

A council spokesman said a public consultation on ways to use the Spaces for People funding had drawn 3,000 responses and many people were keen to see increased pedestrian space in town centres with narrow pavements.

The spokesman said: “The changes in Haddington were designed to still maintain more than 100 car parking spaces across High Street and Market Street in comparison to the normal capacity of about 120 parking spaces.

“The measures would also have seen extensions to pavement space in other towns, including the temporary closure of the narrow east end of North Berwick High Street to through traffic, whilst retaining provision for deliveries to be made.

“Whilst the changes would temporarily result in the loss of some parking spaces, they were developed to strike the right balance between enabling people to access town centres, help boost the local economy and keep everyone safe at a time when Covid-19 continues to present a risk to public health.”

He added: “While there continues to be support for action to be taken around East Lothian, we recognise there are concerns from retailers and residents in some locations on what the temporary changes mean for town centres.”

Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader, welcomed the decision.

He said: “This is the right decision. There needs to be a better balance between supporting business and ensuring that people have the confidence to return to the high streets to shop. It is clearly crucial that people can socially distance.

“I know that many SNP councillors made representations on these issues when both traders and local people expressed concerns. The council and the administration now need to get it right and that must be done through consultation.”