Belfast Telegraph

Ulster street parking fees 'will crush businesses'

On-street parking charges could be extended to towns around Northern Ireland

By Leslie-Anne Henry

Plans to introduce car parking charges in 30 towns and cities across Northern Ireland will kill struggling high streets, retailers have warned.



The Department for Regional Development (DRD) hopes to raise £37m by making motorists in urban centres like Ballycastle, Ballymena, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Omagh and Newtownards pay for parking for the first time.

The Belfast Telegraph has spoken to retailers and shoppers right across Northern Ireland.

All have voiced outrage at the Government’s controversial plans. A debate is also ongoing on whether the current 12-hour time limit between 8am to 6pm should be raised.

Currently only three cities — Newry, Lisburn and Belfast — have on-street parking charges.

And, the new fees could be implemented as early as next year.

In a statement the DRD said: “In the current Budget 2011-15, DRD has made proposals to increase parking fines and extend on-street parking charges.

“It is proposed to extend on-street charging from Belfast, Lisburn and Newry to all towns and cities covered by the Sub Regional Transport Plan and the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan.”

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has slammed the proposals, saying they would sound the death-knell for beleaguered town centres which have already been hammered by the recession.

“We have major concerns that these proposals will result in more shoppers being forced to go to out-of-town stores which offer free car parking,” said Glyn Roberts, NIIRTA chief executive.

“At a time when we should be encouraging more shoppers to our struggling town centres, this is the wrong charge at the wrong time.”

If the parking charges go ahead it will be the latest blow for motorists who have been hit with record fuel price hikes and spiralling insurance costs in recent months. The Chancellor is to announce a 5% rise in fuel duty in the Budget.

The DRD said a public consultation would be launched before the proposals are finalised.

And what the local traders have to say

BANBRIDGE

Butcher Joe Quail said:

“It’s another stealth tax and another problem for town centres.”

DUNGANNON

Newsagent Walter Cuddy said:

“To pick on the main high streets and throw down a parking meter is ridiculous.”

PORTRUSH

Resident Alan McGill said:

“I think this is another unfair tax on the motorist by an inefficient department.”

PORTSTEWART

Claire Cartmill, office worker living in Portstewart, said:

“This is just another blow. The economy is bad and living costs are increasing every day. Motorists are seen as easy targets.”

ARMAGH

Resident and mother-of-three Fiona Weir said:

“There is so little on-street parking in Armagh at the minute it is already really difficult to find a space. It would be just another hassle.”

BANGOR

Retailer Gareth Richardson said:

“Our customers are children but if they start charging for on-street parking at the front of our shop then the parents won’t want to bring them down.”

BALLYCASTLE

Retailer Paul Cochrane said:

“I think to introduce on-street parking charges province-wide would be very harsh. Every district should be looked at independently.”

BALLYMONEY

Shopkeeper James Simpson said:

“I sell newspapers, cigarettes and sweets, so my customers are just nipping in and out. If they had to pay to park on the street it would have a very serious impact on business.”

BALLYNAHINCH

Resident Ron McBride said:

“It would create a hassle, you have got to have change in the car. I honestly don’t think it would work in Ballynahinch.”

NEWTOWNARDS

Graeme Skelton, managing director of Wardens, said:

“Charges would be something else to deter people from the high street.”

MAGHERAFELT

Auditor and town resident Paul Jameson said:

“I have always found and still believe that street parking charges are more an inconvenience rather than a financial burden. For example, making sure you have coins for the meter.”

BALLYMENA

Businesswoman and retailers’ spokeswoman Audrey Wales said:

“We do not want our shoppers penalised for coming into the town centre.”

COMBER

Kaye Millar, a clothes shop owner of 14 years, said:

“Retailers are already struggling and the last thing we need is another deterrent against coming to this town to shop. I am totally opposed to on-street parking charges.”

COOKSTOWN

Chamber of Commerce president Brian Jordan said:

“This is the final nail for traders. The small amount of money they are going to retrieve is insignificant compared to the damage they will cause.”

CARRICKFERGUS

Jack Creighton, chairman of the town’s development company, said:

“I think it is a nonsense. It is just another way of raising funds without an objective.”

ANTRIM

Chip shop owner Gordon Rowan said:

“We rely very much on passing trade and if people had to pay 20 or 25p for the privilege of parking it would be a disaster. Business is tough enough without this. I think it’s just another way for the Government to hammer you.”

LONDONDERRY

Martin McCrossan, who is chairman of the city centre traders’ forum, said:

“I would have concerns that it would drive people away from the city centre.”

CRAIGAVON

Craft shop owner Elizabeth Speers said:

“It will encourage shoppers to go to shopping centres outside of the town centre and nobody will come in here.”

DOWNPATRICK

Stephen Watson, owner of Castle Flowers, said:

“Small towns are different to the big cities. People expect to pay for parking when they go to Belfast.

“It is pushing people out-of-town to the bigger shopping centres, and if that hits just 20% of our customers then we’re in big trouble.”

ENNISKILLEN

Trevor Kingston, manager of Home, Field and Stream, said:\[Michael Ford\]”They are trying to drive people to out of town shopping centres away from the heart of the town.

“These huge complexes have parking already provided for customers, so obviously they are going to go there rather than the high street.

“Small retailers are suffering as it is. This would just be putting the knife in.”

LARNE

Jack Henry, clothes shop sales clerk, said:\[Michael Ford\]”For independent traders this would be the nail in the coffin, it will really hurt us.

“People are used to stopping for 10 minutes and running into a shop in the centre, but that will all stop if they bring in charges.

“The supermarkets and big shopping centres are the ones that will benefit, it will do us no good.”

NEWCASTLE

Niall Carolan, manager of Hugh McCann’s on the promenade, said:

“It's a bit wild. It's a stupid idea. Most businesses in Newcastle are on the main street. It's a bad, bad idea.”

OMAGH

Naomi Devlin from Menarys said:

“We will definitely be objecting to this proposal.”

PORTADOWN

Jeweller Nigel O’Hara said:

“It's wrong to push business out of towns.”

STRABANE

Brendan Patton, assistant manager at The Sports Centre, said:

“This would be very bad for small businesses trying to survive.”

WARRENPOINT

Sean Bennett, owner of Bennetts Wine Warehouse, said: \[Michael Ford\]”I think this is an absolute disgrace. It won't be any business any good. what so ever

“There are fairly limited parking facilities as it is and I would be very anti-charge.\[Michael Ford\]We have several streets in our immediate vicinity which are one-hour free parking. If people have to pay to park there they just won’t come. I am totally opposed to them.

\[Michael Ford\]”They are saying they will use public transport but that’s not up to scratch either.”

Belfast Telegraph

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