Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Outrage over car parking charges 'sham'

Outgoing Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy and the extract from the leaked letter about car parking charges which has angered retailers

Angry retailers have claimed that a plan to introduce car parking charges in 30 towns across Northern Ireland is a done deal - despite a planned public consultation on the controversial proposals.

It’s really just a sham Outgoing Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy and the extract from the leaked letter about car parking charges which has angered retailers

The Belfast Telegraph has obtained a copy of a letter from outgoing Regional Development (DRD) Minister Conor Murphy in which he states categorically that “on-street car parking charges will be further extended to all major towns” in Northern Ireland.

This is despite previous assurances from DRD that no decision on the plans, which have caused anger among shopkeepers across the province, would be made before a public consultation process was carried out.

Outraged traders, who claim the charges will kill town centres, have now branded the consultation process a sham.

The Belfast Telegraph has launched the Park The Charges campaign to support the traders’ opposition to the controversial scheme. Shopkeepers from all 30 towns where on-street car parking charges are being proposed have told this paper they oppose the plans.

The letter, which has been leaked to the Belfast Telegraph, reads: “On-street car park charges will be extended to all major towns in the north to provide a fair and equitable system that charges a reasonable fee for prime parking in all towns.”

It adds: “This will also generate a turnover of spaces and therefore allow more vehicles and people to use town centres.

“The specific detail on how on-street parking charges will be further extended to all major towns in the north will be considered in detail by my department in a review of on-street parking.”

The DRD hopes to raise £37m over four years by making motorists in 30 urban centres like Ballycastle, Ballymena, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Omagh and Newtownards pay for parking for the first time.

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts said the business community feels betrayed by the DRD.

“We are very concerned over this letter as it seems to contradict our understanding of what the proposed consultation is actually about,” he said.

“In our meeting with the minister, ourselves and representatives from local chambers of commerce were given to understand the consultation would be about whether there would be additional car park charges. In this letter the consultation seems to be about how much the cost of the charges should be, rather than the substantive issue of if there should be additional charges.”

Last month representatives from 27 chambers of commerce joined NIIRTA, the British Retail Consortium, Pubs of Ulster and the Ulster Chemists’ Association in urging for the next DRD minister to scrap the proposal.

Mr Roberts added: “Serious questions now need to be asked.

“Are these proposed car park charges actually now a done deal rather than to be genuinely consulted upon? If it is a done deal, then at what point did the DRD consult with the business community?

“Whoever is the new DRD minister needs to immediately drop these ill-thought-out proposals to tax town centre users, and which threaten our town centres, thousands of independent retailers and local jobs.

“Twenty-seven business organisations which represent the 30 towns and six out of seven of the local political parties are opposed to these charges. The new DRD minister cannot ignore this groundswell of local opinion.”

Last week the Belfast Telegraph contacted all of the main political parties. Only Sinn Fein declined to back our campaign.

Mr Roberts added: “The First Minister and Finance Minister have both declared their opposition to these proposals and we hope they will block them from ever reaching the Executive.”

A DRD spokeswoman said in a statement: “The extension of on-street parking charges to all major towns is included in the DRD budget which was consulted on as part of the overall Budget and agreed by the Executive.

“However, the department intends to carry out a full consultation on this individual proposal to allow all representations to be considered. A consultation report, including recommendations, will then be completed and a decision taken on whether to proceed with this proposal.”

What we are calling for

The Belfast Telegraph has launched the Park The Charges campaign, calling for the next DRD Minister to scrap plans to introduce on-street car parking charges. Traders from all 30 towns have already expressed through this paper serious concerns about the impact the measures could have on our town centres. At a time of economic difficulties, the Stormont Executive should be supporting retailers and recognising their vital role in the economy. These charges will kill our struggling town centres and should be stopped.

What the department has said previously

16/3/11 – “Neither the parking fine proposed increase or the extension of on-street charging to all towns have been finalised and any proposals will go out to consultation.”

28/3/11 – “Any proposals will go out to consultation. This is a challenging project and it will take time to roll out to all centres given the legislative changes required and the operational infrastructure to be provided.”

What the letter says

“On-street car park charges will be extended to all major towns in the north to provide a fair and equitable system that charges a reasonable fee for prime parking in all towns.” Conor Murphy

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