Parking fine limit to be raised
The maximum parking ticket fine in Northern Ireland is to increase to £90, the roads minister has announced.
Danny Kennedy said the 50% rise from the current £60 rate would cut down on illegal parking. The minister has also announced that 25 free car parks across Northern Ireland would be introducing charges - with a top rate of 40p per hour applied. The new charges will come into effect in June.
Like current parking fines, recipients are eligible for a 50% discount if they pay within 14 days of issue. Last year, Mr Kennedy decided not to introduce on-street parking charges in 30 towns and cities in response to concerns from high street traders.
But he said £30 million funding still had to been found to enable his department to deliver front line services, such as road repairs and street light maintenance. The minister insisted that free off-street or on-street parking was still available in parts of every town in the region.
"The off-street car parks may be a walk from the town centre but offer a free alternative to charged parking," he said, before informing members of his Stormont scrutiny committee of the changes on Wednesday morning. A public consultation exercise will follow. He said the increase to penalty fines would benefit those who chose to park properly.
He added: "As well as being a safety issue for drivers and pedestrians, illegal parking still plagues our towns and cities leading to driver frustration, congested roads and fewer parking spaces for shoppers. We want drivers to park legally and consider other road users.
"Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) are only issued to drivers who do not park legally. By observing double yellow lines, accessibility bays for Blue Badge holders, zig zags, bus lanes at peak times, urban clearways and all other parking restrictions drivers can avoid PCNs."
The 25 free car parks proposed to become charged are in: Whiteabbey, Belfast, Bangor, Portadown, Armagh, Banbridge, Lurgan, Ballycastle, Ballymena, Coleraine, Larne, Limavady, Londonderry, Ballyclare, Magherafelt, Omagh and Strabane. The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) expressed concern at the penalty increase.
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: "In our discussions with Minister Kennedy we outlined our concerns about the penalty being increased to £90 as it could well deter consumers from shopping in town centres."
SDLP regional development spokesman Joe Byrne also criticised the fine hike, saying: "While we recognise that illegal parking is a problem, this huge hike in fines is not the way to deal with this issue, nor is an increase in car parking charges. We are calling on the minister to reverse this decision and undertake a review of car parking charges for all provincial towns."