Tafifs at one of Belfast city centre's flagship car parks will be drastically reduced by up to 70%, it can be revealed.
The good news for consumers comes after the Belfast Telegraph highlighted the high rates being charged by some companies in the city, including one case of a businessman who was forced to pay a staggering £6 for just 42 minutes.
That stark revelation prompted the manager of NCP's Montgomery Street car park – where the fee was charged – to meet councillors at City Hall. And following discussions with elected representatives and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), new reduced parking fees are due to come into effect today.
It means that motorists hoping to avail of some late night shopping over the coming weeks will pay a capped rate of £4.50 from 4-10pm.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the launch of the new pricing plan, Montgomery Street boss Kevin O'Connor said he was acting in the interests of consumers.
"I spoke to customers in the car park and they told me they thought it was too expensive, so at least we picked up the gauntlet," he said.
"We're now introducing specific fees from 4pm during the rest of December and January to support local retailers through Christmas.
"It's a short-term measure to prove we take on board what consumers have said and to show we are listening to how people feel, because we want to encourage people to shop in the city and not have to worry about high parking prices.
"Then, at the end of January, we'll undertake a proper tariff board pricing view to establish a long-term policy." Mr O'Connor said the current parking rates at the facility remain unchanged up until 4pm due to an existing contract with the landlord.
That means clients will pay £2.10 for the first 30 minutes, £6 for up to two hours, £11.30 for two to four hours and £14.30 for four to six hours.
However, after 4pm, under the new regime, parking costs £1.50 for one hour and £3 for two hours, up to a maximum of £4.50 until 10pm when the car park closes.
Put simply, you can park for six hours from 4pm until 10pm for £4.50 – down £9.80 (or 68%) on the current daily rate.
UUP councillor Jim Rodgers, a former Belfast Lord Mayor, met Mr O'Connor along with Pat McCarthy from the SDLP and the DUP's Tom Hare.
"Thanks to the Belfast Telegraph this issue was brought to the fore and we welcome the reduction in price at Montgomery Street as a major step forward," said Mr Rodgers.
"We are now urging other private operators like Q-Park and CastleCourt to take action as we still feel they could be doing better."
STORY SO FAR
Last week the Belfast Telegraph lifted the lid on the prices being charged by some private car parks in Belfast city centre. The sky- high tariffs were exposed after a businessman complained he was charged £6 for just 42 minutes by NCP at Montgomery Street.
Northern Ireland's minister with responsibility for transport has called on private car parks in Belfast to reduce their tariffs as a matter of urgency.
Danny Kennedy was speaking after a leading NCP-owned facility dropped its prices following a Belfast Telegraph report into the cost of car parking in the city centre.
And he welcomed its decision to slash rates at Montgomery Street car park from 4pm for the remainder of December until the end of January.
"This is great news for shoppers and traders and I would now like to see other private car parks reduce their pricing too," Regional Development Minister Mr Kennedy said.
"It complements the measures I introduced last month as part of my Christmas package for Belfast, including free park and ride services during late night shopping days and also on Saturdays.
"Fare promotions and an embargo on roadworks over the Christmas period also helps traders, shoppers and road users."
Montgomery Street NCP boss Kevin O'Connor said he had slashed fees from today in response to customer concerns over costs.
Urging other private companies to consider their charges, he said: "We should all take appropriate action to support the people and retailers of Belfast."
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief Glyn Roberts said it was time for private car park owners "to step up to the plate".
"I am delighted that NCP has announced this discount scheme as this will ensure that Christmas and New Year shoppers who use those car parks will be spending less in parking and hopefully more in city centre shops, bars and restaurants," he said.
"Now, I am calling on other privately owned car park owners to follow the lead of NCP and put forward their own discount scheme for shoppers in Belfast city centre."