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Fair and impartial parking laws not a waste of space

It is time for some common sense and a little realism in the debate around parking restrictions and enforcement on the May Bank Holiday.

First, let us have a few facts. Parking restrictions and enforcements are there to benefit everyone who visits our cities and towns - drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Illegal parking is an offence. The vast majority of drivers park legally and safely.

But, unfortunately, there are some who still park illegally. They are in the minority.

Penalty charge notices are only issued to those who break the parking laws.

We aim to make our city and town centres welcome places for investors and for people who want to visit, to shop and to socialise. That aim cannot be realised if traffic is not managed, allowing it to move freely.

Some restriction on parking, along with the consequential need for enforcement, is an essential part of that management.

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Parking restrictions ensure safe parking and a reasonable turnover in spaces. Without these rules, there would be a decrease in trade and increased congestion and driver frustration. Indeed, they are probably even more important on bank holidays, when towns and cities work hard to attract more visitors.

Drivers have a responsibility to make sure they are familiar with the Highway Code and have an understanding of parking restrictions.

We want drivers to park legally and consider other road-users. To do anything less is to fail in our civic responsibility to our fellow citizens.

Parking restrictions apply all year round and drivers are expected to adhere to them at all times. This is to provide vital traffic management improvements and a turnover of spaces.

Where people continue to park illegally, traffic attendants will continue to do their duty to enforce restrictions.

Traffic attendants have been much maligned in the media recently. They do an important and worthwhile job. They carry out their duties fairly and impartially. Without their work, chaos would not be far away.

They are sometimes accused of being over-zealous. That is not the case. On average, a traffic attendant in Northern Ireland will issue a penalty charge notice once every couple of hours.

Any suggested introduction of more flexibility by traffic attendants, or any form of retrospective amnesty for specific days, is naive and could lead to questions over impartiality.

The appeals process provides a fairer system and gives drivers the opportunity to challenge the penalty charge notice if they believe they have been issued wrongly.

The fact that some appeals have been successful demonstrates the impartial assessment by my department and, ultimately, by the independent adjudicator managed by the Northern Ireland Court Service. The benefits of having fewer illegally parked vehicles means less congestion, more available parking spaces in town-centres and car-parks and improved safety.

These benefits are essential to the vitality of towns and cities. It is, therefore, important that effective enforcement is provided.

The number of penalty charge notices issued in any town or city depends on many factors, not least of which are the size of the town or city and the volume of traffic there.

In some areas, public representatives are calling for enforcement of parking restrictions on a Sunday, because they believe local traders are losing out on business generated by the effect of all-day parking on the turnover of parking spaces.

Enforcement of parking restrictions aims to maintain free-flowing traffic and safety for all.

My aim is to deliver a consistent and fair traffic management system that encourages visitors and ensures access for all. Let us all work together to make our towns and cities safe and welcoming.

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