Northern Ireland parking fines to jump by 50%
Fury has erupted over Stormont plans to increase parking fines and charges for car parking spaces.
The price hike means a parking fine jumps by 50% from £60 to £90, and sees a 40p-per-hour charge at 25 formerly free car parks across 16 towns in Northern Ireland. The increase will be introduced in June.
Roads Minister Danny Kennedy made the announcement at the Assembly yesterday, on the same day that Translink announced it was increasing its fares for public transport.
But concerns have been raised that the minister is penalising motorists in order to balance his department’s books.
Currently the income generated from parking fines does not cover the cost of providing parking enforcement and car park services.
Parking enforcement in Northern Ireland was privatised in 2006 and the DRD Road Service contract is held by NSL (formerly NCP). While £22.5m has been generated from parking tickets since 2006, £36.1m has been paid out by DRD to NSL.
The minister confirmed he needed to find £30m over the current budget period in order to deliver frontline services.
He said: “I have ensured that there is free off-street or on-street car parking in all towns across Northern Ireland. The off-street car parks may be a walk from the town centre but offer a free alternative to charged parking.
“The list of 25 car parks where charging is being introduced was provided to the Assembly last September, and these charges have been subject to a consultation process.”
Mr Kennedy said the higher Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) for illegal parking would make towns safer.
“As well as being a safety issue for drivers and pedestrians, illegal parking plagues our towns and cities leading to driver frustration, congested roads and fewer parking spaces for shoppers,” he said.
“We want drivers to park legally and consider other road users.”
The current 50% discount to those who pay the fine within 14 days will still apply to the new increased rate.
But the retail industry has hit out at the plans, saying it will “devastate” town centres which are already suffering from a decreased footfall and cash-strapped shoppers.
They say customers cannot afford to fork out extra money for car parking and will choose to go to out-of-town shopping centres which offer ample free parking.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said the increases could “deter consumers from shopping in town centres”.
“In the last six months our office has been inundated with calls from members right across Northern Ireland informing us that the ‘redcoats’ have adopted an over zealous approach to issuing fines in their town centres,” chief executive Glyn Roberts said.
“NIIRTA will be meeting with Minister Kennedy to discuss this issue further and for the need for a more effective car-park strategy to ensure that our town and city centres can be more user friendly to shoppers using their cars.”
SDLP’s Joe Byrne branded the plans “nonsensical”, saying they would deter shoppers.
“This is at a time when our town centre retailers are struggling to get people into their stores to spend money and when people’s income is being reduced, fuel prices are through the roof, dole queues are growing, unemployment is widespread, and benefits and working tax credits are being cut,” the regional development committee member said.
“This move will encourage people to spend money out of town where there are free parking facilities. It will also make it extremely difficult for people to access vital health services such as GP surgeries and dentists, which are often located in areas where there are charges for on-street parking.”
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has vowed to lead the regional development committee in opposing the new charges.
125,848 - Number of parking tickets issued across Northern Ireland last year
£22.5m - Amount of cash generated from the issuing of parking tickets since 2006
£36.1m - Amount paid out by DRD to the NSL group responsible for on-the-ground enforcement during the same period
115 - The number of parking attendants |patrolling Northern Ireland’s streets
36,280 - Number of tickets handed out in Belfast last year, the most in the province. Derry was second with 11,483, followed by Newry (8,499), Lisburn (7,625) and Ballymena (6,851)
2,296 - Number of fines issued last year to |offenders on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, the city’s most ticketed street
Locations where charges|will be introduced to 25 |free car parks