SF's plan to hike car parking charges branded disgraceful
Local car-parking charges are to rise by as much as 50%, it has been revealed.
Tariffs in Belfast city centre will increase by 20p per hour, from £1.20 to £1.40.
Outside the city centre, the current charge of 80p per hour will climb to £1.20.
Charges in Newry, meanwhile, will leap from 40p to 60p per hour, and from 60p to 80p an hour in Lisburn.
Sinn Fein Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said: "Parking tariffs in Belfast have not increased since 2011 and have not kept pace with inflation.
"Similarly, tariffs in Newry and Lisburn have not increased since 2009 and 2008.
"On-street parking provides a vital resource for shoppers and visitors and is an important support for the economic and social life of our towns and cities.
"For that reason I have limited these increases to the minimum possible."
But the scheme provoked an angry backlash.
Glyn Roberts, from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, expressed surprise and dismay at the move.
"This decision to hike car parking charges in Belfast, Newry and Lisburn city centres without any consultation is completely unacceptable," he said.
"We are strongly opposed to this and will be lobbying the Infrastructure Minister after the Assembly election to reverse this disgraceful and unnecessary move."
Mr Roberts said that rather than increasing parking charges, the minister should be reducing them to encourage more people to come into city centres.
"The only winners from this hike are the big out-of-town superstores with their unfair competitive advantage of free car parking and no over-zealous traffic attendants," he added.
"We will be fighting this hike and will be engaging with all political parties during the Assembly election to ensure Belfast, Lisburn and Newry city centres get a fair deal on car parking."
DUP MLA William Humphrey, who chairs Stormont's infrastructure committee, also hit out at the price hike.
"This decision to increase on-street parking charges by the minister shows a complete lack of understanding and total ignorance as to what business and local people in these cities have said about parking tariffs," Mr Humphrey said.
"Inexpensive on-street parking is vitally important for traders and the growth of our city and town centre economies.
"The Minister for Infrastructure has failed to realise this and his decision will deter people from going into the city centre to shop or take part in leisure activities."
Mr Hazzard also announced a review of parking enforcement that will see the dreaded red coats pulled from towns that generate fewer than 10 penalty notices a month.
He referred to the recent deployment of traffic attendants in Coalisland, and said the town would not have routine scheduled enforcement in the future.
A rare visit by red coats to the town last year met with angry resistance from some locals.
Mr Hazzard added: "Following representations to my department to commence scheduled parking enforcement in Coalisland, a trial was established to ascertain if scheduled routine enforcement is necessary.
"During the trial, which ran from August until December 2016, two warning notices were issued.
"This trial has now ended, and on the basis of efficient and effective use of resources, Coalisland will not have routine scheduled enforcement."