Belfast airport car park owner Boal's angry letter to minister
The Environment Minister has been accused of being "grossly out of touch" with what the public wants by a businessman whose car park near Belfast City Airport was shut down.
Boal's car park in the grounds of Ikea has been providing a cheaper alternative to official airport car parks since 2011.
It had been charging £8 a day, compared to £26 for 24 hours in the official car park.
But it has now been refused planning permission - initially by the Department of the Environment and then by Belfast City Council's planning committee - and must close by August 28.
The Belfast Telegraph has seen a letter written by businessman Laurence Boal to Environment Minister Mark H Durkan expressing the Boal family's fury.
"You had a chance to help a local family-run business to continue to operate, saving eight employees jobs and livelihoods, whilst also helping the people of Northern Ireland not to have to suffer a monopoly of car parking services at Belfast City Airport," he wrote.
"You have helped take away their right to a choice, in this case a cheaper choice of service and have clearly disadvantaged them."
Mr Boal also queried Mr Durkan's statement that he did not feel the public had been disadvantaged by the decision to refuse planning permission.
"I find it very hard to understand that the Minister for Environment can be so grossly out of touch to what advantages or disadvantages the public of Northern Ireland," Mr Boal wrote.
Last night more than 400 people had signed an online petition calling for Boal's car park to be kept open.
Mr Durkan had refused to renew planning permission earlier this year.
Planning powers then transferred to councils in April and Belfast City Council dismissed the Boals' appeal against the first decision on June 29.
Last night the council's planning committee briefly discussed the matter and heard that if the business does not cease operation by August 28, enforcement action will be taken.
Committee vice chairman Billy Hutchinson (PUP) proposed that the council should meet the board of the City Airport to discuss the parking situation.
"There is an issue here, not a planning issue, an issue of urban development," he said. "We need to have some competition, there is a monopoly.
"Council should set up a meeting with the airport to discuss how to address this going forward."
This was seconded by Ulster Unionist councillor Peter Johnston, who called the closing of Boal's car park a "retrograde step".
Mr Hutchinson's proposal received unanimous backing.
"Illegal car parks are a problem not isolated to Belfast City Airport.
"While we welcome competition, it must adhere to the same planning restrictions as the airport, which has invested millions of pounds in infrastructure to operate a facility that protects customers in a safe and legal environment. The airport is a rate-paying business that operates within the law, why should others flout the law for commercial gain?"
Belfast City Airport