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Free Press claims victory in hospital parking dispute

Hospital bosses have been forced to back down on a bid to bring in unpopular car parking charges after a year-long campaign by the Fife Free Press.

The paper was backed by overwhelming public support in opposition to the plans, which would have meant staff, patients and visitors would have to pay to park at one of Fife’s busiest hospitals.

The Press revealed the news of the £1-a-day scheme in December 1999 and launched the Keep It Free campaign in March. A petition called for the plans to be scrapped.

Fife Council, the local Member of the Scottish Parliament and trade unions all condemned the scheme, branding it a tax on the sick and vulnerable.

Local Labour party members picketed the hospital to highlight the campaign and the initial date for introducing charges in April was unmet.

The petition soon hit the 20,000 signature mark and was presented to the Scottish Parliament in May where it was debated at the Public Petitions Committee.

In June, the Press revealed the parking barriers erected in anticipation of the charging scheme had no planning permission, forcing Fife Acute Hospitals NHS Trust to submit planning applications and giving the public a renewed opportunity to derail the scheme.

Editor Colin Hume said: “Trust bosses attacked the press, accusing the media of failing to accurately portray their position. Meanwhile, every senior Labour politician in Fife – including Chancellor Gordon Brown and Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish – demanded that the plan be scrapped.

“The Trust issued a revised version of its Green Travel Plan in October, the blueprint containing the charging proposal, but the Press discovered it had been copied almost word-for-word from a Fife Council plan, provoking further outrage.”

The tide began to turn as the Trust admitted it was taking a fresh look at the issue.

Then in December, the Press exclusively revealed that the Trust was to scrap its scheme, with existing parking spaces remaining free and only new car parking to be charged for, a decision confirmed by hospital bosses two weeks later when they admitted mistakes had been made.

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