Councillors refuse to discuss Coleraine Christmas parking charges
A mayor and councillors from three parties walked out of a committee meeting after a DUP councillor tried to raise the issue of parking fines being slapped on Christmas shoppers in Coleraine.
However, the DUP's Trevor Clarke was told that Causeway Coast and Glens' Leisure and Development Committee had no powers to deal with the problem, and it would be discussed by the full council at a later date.
The council has introduced Sunday parking charges at two of its car parks for December, when previously it was free.
The move proved unpopular, particularly after 33 tickets were issued on December 3 before clear signs warning of the charges were in place.
Mr Clarke tried to open a discussion at Tuesday's committee meeting, which he hoped would lead to the fines being quashed. Instead, other members of the committee stuck to the rules, refused to engage and some walked out.
The Ulster Unionist mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens, Joan Baird, said Mr Clarke's actions made a mockery of council procedures. She walked out of the chamber along with a number of councillors from the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Sinn Fein.
Ms Baird said: "Our committee was not the inappropriate place to discuss parking issues. It is Environmental Services or full council.
"We could do nothing about the parking tickets so this would have been a ridiculous waste of time and would have turned the committee into a talking shop.
"Rather than waste time I have tabled a motion to have the parking tickets looked into at next Tuesday's full council meeting, where the matter can actually be addressed."
However, Mr Clarke said the walkout showed a lack of Christmas spirit. He said: "There have been other incidents where procedures were not followed to the letter and, given the circumstances, I thought it was important to raise the matter as soon as possible.
"It is not the message I want to show to people coming to Coleraine to do their Christmas shopping and I think there was a distinct lack of Christmas spirit in the council chamber on Tuesday night."
A council spokeswoman said the parking strategy is under review.
"Free car parking in the town was trialled in the run-up to Christmas 2015 but led to increased congestion, particularly in central areas. This adversely impacted on traffic flow around Coleraine and constrained the number of shoppers getting into the retail areas at peak times," she said.