Boost for town's as DRD cuts car park charges for Christmas
A special Christmas parking rate is set to benefit 25 towns across Northern Ireland, including Ards, Bangor and Holywood.
The new reduced tariff was announced by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy and will begin on December 2, running until January 11. It will see a £1 charge for five hours parking in 95 Road Service run car parks.
The car park charges were introduced by the Department of Regional Development in 2011 and have proven unpopular with the public.
Speaking about the temporary reduction, the minister said: "Retailers across Northern Ireland have been suffering from the economic downturn and I know that the festive season is a key period for them financially.
"I wanted to ensure that other areas received some assistance which would encourage shoppers to go into towns over the Christmas period. That is why I have decided to introduce this new reduced tariff.
"I am confident these measures will provide a welcome boost for traders and would encourage the public to continue to support their local economy and shop local."
Ken Sharp, president of Bangor Chamber of Commerce, said: "This will go some way toward helping the town centre. We welcome the reduced tariff period and if it is successful we would certainly like to expand it on an all year round basis."
Referring to the Review of Public Administration, which will see more powers delegated to town councils, he continued: "The issue is that this charge is a knee-jerk reaction. We need a long term parking solution. Under RPA this will pass into the council's control and we will certainly think about it."
Leigh Nelson, president of Newtownards Chamber of Commerce, said: "This is a welcome announcement from the Roads Service. Parking is an obstacle that Newtownards town centre has had to compete with against the shopping centres and retail outlets which offer it for free. It can be a real pull for many shoppers. Newtownards is known for low cost parking and that, combined with the unique variety of local stores, makes it a really worthwhile shopping destination. Now these new seasonal charges have provided another reason to shop in Newtownards."
Stephen Dunlop, Regional Chairman of the Association of Town and City Management, said: "Any assistance given to town centres is very welcome. However, I'd have wished for it to be something more substantial. Bangor has car parking in three places. There should be more effort toward establishing joint management. This should be the DRD's main responsibility. There should be a broader discussion about parking in town centres. Bangor and Holywood both have masterplans agreed that include a request to the DRD to use their expertise to prepare a car parking strategy."
Councillor Brian Wilson, who was meeting Department of Regional Development staff at the time of going to press yesterday to discuss the ongoing underuse of Dufferin Avenue car park, welcomed the reduction in charges – and "any measures which will help hard-pressed town centre traders in this crucial Christmas period. I hope it will encourage shoppers to use Bangor and Holywood town centres and I would call on the Minister to extend it into the new year."