Businesses in Bangor and Newtownards are appealing to the public to help them fight the introduction of additional car park charges in their town centres.
Ards Chamber of Commerce held an emergency meeting to protest against the move last night (Tuesday, March 29).
Glyn Roberts, Northern Ireland Independent Retailers Association chief executive, said before the event: “These proposed additional car park charges are the last thing struggling town centre traders need at this time.
“NIIRTA will be working with traders in each of the 30 towns to launch a campaign to get these charges dropped,” he pledged.
William Gilliland, president of Ards Chamber of Commerce, said: “These charges will result in more shoppers being forced to go to out of town stores which offer free car parking. At a time when we should be encouraging more shoppers to our struggling town centres this is the wrong charge at the wrong time.
“We are calling upon all Assembly election candidates to pledge if elected to vote against these charges. Given that any of the five main parties could hold the DRD ministerial position, we also urge the party leaders to do likewise.”
Strangford MP Jim Shannon has called for shop keepers and residents to respond fully and in numbers to the DRD consultation document on the charges.
Mr Shannon said: “There is not a problem with all day parking in the town centre. Traffic wardens and the PSNI enforce current laws to ensure that traffic movement is maintained.
“At a time of economic stress it is vital that what we have in Ards town remains as is. The shopkeepers and public can ensure that change does not happen by putting up a good fight. I would encourage you to take a few minutes to respond to the consultation and state your opposition and objection.”
He asked constituents to call into his office and avail of his offer of writing a letter to DRD and said there is a petition at the fruit shop in Conway Square.
Bangor town centre manager, Steven Dunlop fears the DRD proposal would make towns ‘uncompetitive’. He said: “When we first heard the news we were somewhat confused.
“We had been in contact with the Roads Service and we said that if certain conditions were met we would work with them.
“We were looking for allocated spaces for staff, a joined up car parking strategy between private, council and DRD car parks.
“Bangor has a large commuter population so we wanted dedicated commuter car park.
“We object essentially because it makes us uncompetitive — the charge is onerous.
“Given the economic climate I would strongly oppose it.”
He believed DRD did not have the legislative power to increase and roll out these charges and was acting ‘ultra vires’.
A DSD spokesperson said: “This extension of on-street parking charges will provide a fair and equitable system that charges a reasonable fee for the prime parking locations in all towns. This will encourage the turnover of spaces available for shoppers and visitors, rather than for those who park all day and therefore allow more vehicles to use town centres.”