The Federation of Small businesses and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association have strongly welcomed the decision by regional development minister Danny Kennedy to abandon proposals from previous minister Conor Murphy to introduce on-street car parking charges in 30 towns and small cities.
“Small business owners, shoppers and employees across Northern Ireland can breathe a collective sigh of relief at this news,” said Roger Pollen, FSB head of external affairs. “The proposal to impose parking fees in 30 towns across the province would undoubtedly have impacted detrimentally on our high streets as the collective cost of driving into town and parking would have seen many shoppers shun their local shops in favour of alternative retail facilities such as out of town developments and online shopping.”
NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “We are absolutely delighted with minister Kennedy’s decision to drop these charges. This is a good result for our town centres and independent retail sector which have campaigned hard to get these proposed charges dropped in the 30 towns. It is also a good day for devolution as it shows that having locally accountable ministers can make a positive impact in changing policy.
“The current system in the 30 towns where shoppers can park free for the first hour or two works to ensure a turnover in traffic and prevents people from parking all day. To have charged for this could be the final nail in the coffin for our town centres.”
However, the FSB said that the Assembly should consider its wider economic policy, to ensure it does not damage traditional retail centres. Examples of policies that it said could damage town and city centres include the taxing of carrier bags and the prohibition of small shops displaying tobacco products.
Kennedy praised NIIRTA for contributing “significantly and constructively” to the policy review, which led to the proposal being dropped.