Tom Gordon

HOLYROOD is today set to narrowly approve a controversial parking tax as part of efforts to cut congestion and clean up the environment.

Green and SNP MSPs are due to back the Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) in a final vote on the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill.

The measure will empower councils to charge employers for parking bays, although in practice many firms are expected to pass the cost on to their staff.

Only urban authorities are likely to set a WPL, with the funds raised ringfenced for transport projects.

The only council in the UK to use a WPL is Nottingham, which charges employers with more than ten bays £415 each, with the charge rising to almost £500 if it is paid by staff.

READ MORE: Workplace parking tax: Everything you need to know 

The Scottish version is not due to come into force until after the 2021 Holyrood election.

The move has been opposed by the Tories, LibDems and Labour at Holyrood, who argue it is a burden on employers and staff. There have also been calls to extend a national exemption for NHS and GP premises to teachers, police officers and other key public sector personnel.

However other exemptions will be a matter for individual councils.

The WPL has been spearheaded by Green MSP John Finnie, and was backed by the Government as part of a deal on the 2019-20 budget.

The Transport Bill also paves the way for low emission zones in cities, more public ownership of buses and a crackdown on pavement parking.

The Scottish Tories said they were ready to back the legislation, but only if the WPL was dropped.

MSP Jamie Greene said: “This regressive tax will harm the most vulnerable in society and punish hardworking people right across the country, which is why we tried to exempt hard working emergency services, teachers, those on low incomes, the disabled and night shift workers. This has the potential to be one of the most hated policies brought in since the SNP came to power and has been roundly criticised from all quarters.

“It’s time for the SNP to swallow its pride and ditch this proposal so we can pass a decent Transport Bill which sticks to its original objectives.”

But Gavin Thomson of Friends of the Earth Scotland said the Bill was a key test of whether MSPs intended to live up to their rhetoric on tackling climate change emissions.

He said: “Workplace parking levies have a track record of bringing much-needed investment to transport infrastructure, and creating healthier places to live and work.

READ MORE: MSPs accused of 'duplicity' over workplace parking levy 

“They are an optional power being offered to councils, and Edinburgh and Glasgow Councils both formally asked the Scottish Government for this tool to cut traffic. It won’t be right for every area, but it will combat congestion and air pollution in our city centres.

“If MSPs are prepared to follow through on their climate commitments, they need to recognise this means changing our polluting, dangerous transport system.”

Mr Finnie said: “It’s important that councils have the powers to introduce fund-raising initiatives which can also drive behaviour change to tackle the climate emergency. The Transport Bill can empower councils to apply parking levies and take control of bus services as they see fit.”