Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council ditches free parking at Christmas after Translink plea

By Cate McCurry

Belfast City Council has voted to end free car parking for shoppers in the run up to Christmas after a plea from Translink.

Last year the council offered some 1,500 free parking spaces at its sites after 6pm through the week and over weekends.

However, after an intervention by Translink - which claimed the scheme caused congestion and recommended that the initiative should end - the council voted to end the free spaces at the council's Growth and Regeneration Committee last night.

The decision will now need to be ratified by the full council at a meeting next month.

DUP councillor Tom Haire was in favour of keeping the scheme and said it was helping to encourage people into the city centre. "I know there are people in country areas who would normally come into Belfast and they wouldn't know where to go now. They are confused with the bus lanes to start with and people are staying away from it," he told the BBC.

"We want to encourage them in and I would support the free car parking coming up to Christmas."

However, PUP councillor John Kyle admitted he wanted to see an end to the scheme and said that the decision was a good thing.

He said: "I think it will result in more customers coming into the city centre.

"It will make public transport easier to use and I think it will increase the footfall without creating the congestion and frustration in the city centre."

Earlier this week Northern Ireland's bus and rail operator Translink said the incentive was having a "significant impact" on its services.

Instead it asked the council to work with it on providing offers for people to use its park and ride facilities.

In a letter to the council, Translink chief executive Chris Conway said free parking spaces were taken up quickly during the festive period last year.

This had resulted in long queues of cars waiting on spaces to be freed up or motorists circling the city in hope of a space. It also added to rush hour delays, he said.

He outlined how 2,000 journeys were recorded as not operating last December due to service disruption. Punctuality was at 84% and complaints about the service rose by 28%, he said.

The operator estimates costs incurred because of the disruption to be around £250,000.

Mr Conway said: "We want to make Belfast an attractive, vibrant city for shopping and socialising not only all year round, but particularly at Christmas.

"Christmas is such an important financial catalyst for the heart of the city and we know that congestion not only impacts our services but can also affect local businesses and retailers as people can be put off by delays and disruption and find alternative locations to visit."

He went on to suggest that Translink and the council could agree on a set of offers for people using the park and ride facilities around the city.

A Translink spokeswoman earlier this week said: "Planning for Christmas parking and traffic are part of the discussions we have each year with Belfast City Council and other partners to help keep Belfast moving during this extremely busy period."

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