COUNCILLORS will meet this week to discuss a petition - backed by thousands of people - calling for controversial plans to introduce parking charges in Kilwinning to be shelved.

More than 1,700 people signed a hard copy of the petition, started by local greengrocer Dino and Sons, that was submitted to North Ayrshire Council (NAC) earlier this month.

An online version currently has almost 2,000 signatories and members of NAC's audit and scrutiny committee will review the points raised at a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, November 15), which the petitioners have been invited to attend.

Decriminalised parking enforcement (DPE) was first proposed to be introduced across North Ayrshire in June 2019 and backed by the full council in September of that year, before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic put the plans on hold.

In March 2022, the council approved tariffs of £1.50/one hour, £2/two hours and £3.50/four hours for 10 short stay car parks, however, it was later agreed to reconsider the level of charges proposed "in light of the deepening financial crisis".

The car parks where charges will apply are: Kirkgate, West Road and East Road in Irvine; Almswell Road and Oxenward in Kilwinning; Vernon Street, Bradshaw Street, Windmill Street and Kirkgate in Saltcoats; and Gateside Street in Largs.

The idea behind the plans is to enable a greater turnover of spaces and free up short stay car parks in town centres, with an aim of "reducing the volume of traffic travelling through towns" and supporting a "shift towards more sustainable travel behaviour".

A cover letter for the petition said: "North Ayrshire Council clearly states, ‘free parking is a key factor in people visiting town centres’.

"Therefore, the introduction of parking charges goes against the findings within your own strategy, which additionally highlights that Kilwinning and its surrounding areas of Irvine, the Three Towns and Garnock Valley were identified as one of the significant areas of deprivation within the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

"With the ongoing energy, fuel, and cost of living crisis, business owners feel that the parking charges are a travesty, and the impact will have a negative effect on keeping business open, consequently, resulting in more independent shop closures within Kilwinning Main Street."

Irvine Times: Dino and Sons has served Kilwinning for over 45 yearsDino and Sons has served Kilwinning for over 45 years (Image: Dino and Sons)

North Ayrshire Council currently has 55 car parks and 44 will remain free of charge to use, the exceptions being the 10 named above plus Bellman’s Close in Largs which already has charging in place.

In a report prepared for this week's meeting, the financial implications of not progressing with the parking charge plan were outlined.

The report stated: "Car parking charges were agreed as part of the council’s budget setting process and an income of £440,000 per annum is included in the budget.

"Any proposal to review or abolish car parking charges will require details on how the £440,000 funding gap will be met through increased charges/income or new savings.

"There is also a cost in providing and maintaining car parks and in the current financial climate this is difficult to sustain without some sort of charge."

Further engagement sessions with elected members are due to take place in December to discuss concerns and issues, while a follow-up report on proposed charges will be submitted to a meeting of the council's cabinet in January.

The petition added: "Customers have stated that they will shop elsewhere that provides free parking, therefore, we must insist that this decision be reversed to ensure that local businesses remain the backbone of Kilwinning’s economy, who will continue to support our local community.

"We the shopkeepers fear that the proposed parking charges will significantly reduce footfall. Therefore, doing so will have a devastating impact on all small, independent businesses who are already striving to compete against the giant supermarkets and large shopping centres within the surrounding area where all parking is free.”

You can view the online petition here.