CONTROVERSIAL plans to let councils introduce a workplace parking tax have been passed at Holyrood with the support of less than half the parliament’s MSPs.

The Transport (Scotland) Bill completed its final stage with the support of just 56 of 129 MSPs, with 29 opposed, and 18 abstaining.

Nicola Sturgeon missed the vote to speak to council leaders in Fife.

The legislation will outlaw double parking and parking on the pavement, and empower more council to run their own bus services, and should speed up “smart ticketing” across a variety of transport networks.

To help cut pollution, cities will be able to create low emission zones, with polluting vehicles deterred from entering by punitive charges.

But the most controversial element is empowering of councils to charge employers a workplace parking levy for each parking bay they offer staff.

In Nottingham, the anti-congestion charge is set at £415 a year, but most firms pass it on to workers, which adds VAT and costs the staff £500.

NHS workers and GPs will be exempt, but other public sector workers may have to pay.

Money raised by the charge is ringfenced for transport projects.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the Bill would lead to improved journeys for the travelling public and build on work already underway to cut carbon emissions

He said: “It empowers local authorities to address local transport needs. I look forward to working with our partners to put these measures into practice, protecting our climate and improving lives in the process.”

Gavin Thomson of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “Transport is our most polluting sector, and road transport emissions are actually higher than they were in 1990.

“The new powers delivered to councils must be used to discourage car use, improve public transport and make it easier and safer to walk or cycle.

“Low Emission Zones will improve the air we breathe, by restricting the most polluting vehicles from cities.

“But it is hugely disappointing that MSPs chose to retain 6-year ‘grace periods’ which govern the speed of implementation of the Zones, as we know Councils need to move quicker to protect our health.

“Let’s hope that all our councils covering towns and cities can look at this new suite of powers to plan a transport system free of fossil fuelled pollution.”

LibDem MSP Mike Rumbles said: “The Transport Bill was supposed to profoundly reshape Scotland’s transport system. Instead it will be overshadowed by an SNP-Green attempt to plunder drivers’ pockets.”

“There are things to welcome here, such as measures to allow local authorities to establish their own bus companies and low emissions zones, and to tackle pavement parking, so it’s a shame that parliament was forced into voting on a bad law, designed to facilitate the Government’s budget deal with the Greens. That was a step too far for the Liberal Democrats.”

Green MSP John Finnie said the LibDems had voted against the Bill because the party was “prioritising winning Tory votes over localism and the climate emergency”.

Speaking at the annual Cosla conference in St Andrews, MSturgeon told council leaders the Bill was the foundation for a major “decentralisation of power”.

The First Minister was responding to criticism from Cosla president Alison Evison that councils had consistently missed out on more powers under 20 years of devolution.