Conor Murphy is refusing to answer questions from the Belfast Telegraph on controversial new plans to introduce on-street car parking charges across Northern Ireland.
This paper has joined forces with small traders to oppose DRD plans to bring in the charges in 30 towns.
Our campaign, ‘Park The Charges’, precedes a public consultation on the issue and aims to prevent the introduction of a measure traders in every town say will impact on their livelihoods.
The outgoing DRD Minister Conor Murphy has rejected claims that proposals to introduce pay and display parking measures could seriously harm trade in 30 towns and cities.
However, the Sinn Fein MP has refused requests to speak to this newspaper on the issue.
“Conor Murphy has obliged by writing an opinion piece for the Belfast Telegraph last week,” a spokesman for the Sinn Fein MP said yesterday. “He will not be available for interview. He is busy with election work.”
The DRD, which hopes to introduce the parking levy next year and raise £37m over a four-year period, also declined to put the minister forward.
But speaking on The Nolan Show yesterday, Mr Murphy denied that the charges could be the final nail in the coffin for struggling towns such as Ballymoney, Dungannon, Omagh and Newtownards.
“I have heard reaction from some of the towns already that this is going into and they haven’t, perhaps, listened to the experience where this already exists,” he said. “This proposal has been part of the Subways and Transport Plan for six years. It is now intended to be activated.”
The minister also said he believed customers were more concerned with the availability of spaces than the cost.
He added: “The turnover space in front of shops is actually more attractive for customers coming into shops to do their business. The majority come in for brief periods, an hour or two hours, and then leave again. The availability of parking is more important to them than the fact you have to pay the price of a packet of crisps to park in front of those shops.”
Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph contacted retailers and business people in all 30 affected areas and found that all were opposed to the DRD’s new policy. In Newtownards the Chamber of Commerce, which is due to meet Mr Murphy next week, has already collected 500 signatures in a petition calling for the scheme to be scrapped.
“I am looking forward to engaging with the minister,” said William Gilliland, president of Ards Chamber of Commerce. “The department say these charges will bring in about £9m a year. I am sure if someone looks at the wastage up at Stormont they could save plenty. It’s £9m coming out of customers’ pockets that would be going into shops.”
Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister has also backed our campaign, claiming motorists are being punished for using provincial towns. “Not satisfied with encouraging out-of-town developments, this DUP/Sinn Fein Executive is intent on further squeezing town centre business by discouraging shoppers through hefty parking charges,” Mr Allister said. “With Stormont wasting hundreds of millions every year, it is ridiculous that ordinary shoppers should be put upon to pay for their extravagance.”
Questions we want to ask
- Is the new parking charge plan inevitable or will you listen to the views of traders across Northern Ireland?
- Are you aware that traders in each of the 30 towns involved have told the Belfast Telegraph that they oppose the plan?
- Should DRD employees continue to have free parking in Belfast city centre?