December is always a make or break period for Belfast city traders, and they need a period of peace and prosperity in the run-up to this Christmas. Unfortunately, however, some of the parking charges in the city centre are prohibitive, and some of the private operators who are most to blame, as this newspaper reveals today.
Despite the recent gloom, the good news is that business in the centre of Belfast is doing better, and a recent Ulster Bank survey revealed that there has been a marked increase in commercial activity. In fact this is currently one of the greatest surges in almost a decade, which helps our entire economy.
Nevertheless, most people are aware that the green shoots of growth are tenuous, and in many places the sense of optimism is fragile. Given our particular situation in Northern Ireland, nothing can be taken for granted.
It is crucial, therefore, that all steps possible are taken to keep the city centre of Belfast as a top shopping attraction, and at the moment, the signs are encouraging.
Gone for the moment are the major roadworks and the complex changes in the traffic system of last year, and even the controversial bus lanes have kept the way open for public transport, though motorists still have doubts about the efficiency of the system.
The Development Minister Danny Kennedy and his officials have brought forward some novel ideas to help shoppers in other parts of the province, and to a lesser degree in Belfast,
Despite all of this, one of the major recurring problems in and around Belfast's city centre is the shortage of parking space, both public and private. The last thing that shoppers need is high parking costs, and although those who operate private facilities need to make a profit, there is no excuse for charging over the odds, especially during the Christmas period.
It is therefore important that those who run private car parks are subject to close scrutiny by the authorities to ensure that there is the utmost transparency in their charges.
Customers are increasingly aware of value for money and also of their rights.
This is not a time for car park operators to be making an undue profit at the expense of those who bring prosperity to a wide range of other people in Belfast.