| 4.7°C Belfast

Why paying for on-street parking can benefit townsFar from hindering business, charging for spaces can actually encourage it, says Conor Murphy

Many people fear that making changes to parking will adversely affect a town's economy. The evidence suggests the opposite is the case.

In fact, the experience locally where on-street parking measures have already been introduced shows there is no evidence these measures have had a detrimental impact on traders and they have increased the turnover of spaces available for shoppers and visitors.

The introduction of on-street parking measures is about better traffic management and better use of prime car-parking spaces.

It is not done in isolation; rather it is part of overall traffic-management strategies for towns and cities, including off-street car parking, the enforcement of illegal parking and investing in public transport.

The key objective when considering the introduction of on-street charging is that it makes a significant and positive contribution to traffic management by increasing the number of parking spaces available for shoppers and visitors and reducing congestion.

In many of our towns and cities, spaces can be taken up by people parking all day. The new proposed arrangements are about managing the parking available so that appropriate spaces are kept available for customers and visitors.

Proper management of parking benefits towns in many ways, including reducing congestion and contributing positively to economic performance.

It is the turnover on the number of spaces available that's important to traders. Parking with no restrictions or controls and no enforcement can adversely affect economic performance - not improve it.

The Roads Service plans to extend on-street parking charges beyond the three cities where on-street charging is already in place, namely Belfast, Lisburn and Newry.

In Newry, I have experienced first-hand the difficulties that can be caused by congestion in relation to available parking spaces for shoppers and in 2008 on-street pay-and-display was introduced to the city at the request of the local council and traders. The scheme is working well.

The Roads Service also introduced on-street pay-and-display to Lisburn in July 2008 and a review in 2009 confirmed that the parking spaces were very well used.

Respondents to the survey also stated they considered it value for money, and it was beneficial to businesses as there was a greater turnover of spaces.

To those that say introducing these charges is simply about revenue raising, the Roads Service has traffic management and town-centre management responsibilities, which are the prime objectives in providing parking.

The specific detail on how on-street parking charges will be further extended to all major towns in the north will be considered in detail in a departmental review.

There will be a high level of consultation on this aspect of parking policy, including the impact on retail trade prior to implementation.

There will also be an opportunity for consultation on individual schemes at the legislation stage and I encourage people to get involved.

Finally, to those who have said the department has not done enough to encourage more use of public transport into our towns and cities, the funding provided to public transport in recent years has increased substantially.

Translink revenue funding has increased by 7% in the last four years, while capital funding of £235 million has been provided.

Funding for rural transport and transport for the disabled has increased and is protected in the current Budget. There have also been 800 new buses since 2005 and I have secured some £150m for 20 new trains and related projects.