More concern over car parking charges

More concern over car parking charges

9 May 2018

INCREASING concern about a controversial decision to treble parking charges at a number of the district’s car parks has been raised with Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s most senior official.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath met recently with the council’s chief executive, Mr Liam Hannaway, to outline the strength of feeling about the organisation’s decision to substantially increase charges which has prompted people to abandon car parks in Downpatrick in particular.

There has been a significant decrease in the numbers using the Scotch Street, Church Street and Irish Street car parks in the town, with reduced usage also reported at the Windmill Street and Lisburn Street car parks in Ballynahinch.

There is also frustration that it remains free to park in Newcastle, Castlewellan and Saintfield, with traders in Downpatrick and Ballynahinch arguing this places them at a distinct disadvantage. They are also angry it now costs as much to park in Newry as it does locally.

Mr McGrath said he had been “inundated” with calls, emails and social media messages about the huge jump in parking costs, arguing that Downpatrick is “feeling the brunt of the increase.”

He continued: “I was told the decision to hike prices was the council simply bringing all of the car parks it is responsible for into line. However, I made it clear to Mr Hannaway that Downpatrick isn’t Newry.

“My office is in Scotch Street where the nearby car park and the one in Church Street are more or less empty. I feel the decision to hike charges is costing the council as less people are using them. As a direct result, people are now parking in residential areas.”

Mr McGrath warned the local authority must be mindful of this and be seen to support local businesses who felt the benefit of the spend from people who used the car parks in large numbers before the price hike.

“I am glad there will be a review of this decision in the autumn and highlighted to Mr Hannaway the importance of community consultation on this key issue,” he said.

The MLA added: “The views of local residents and businesses need to be taken on board and a decision taken which truly reflects the realities on the ground.”

Two weeks ago, Rowallane councillor Billy Walker, who backed the increase in parking charges, admitted he was wrong to do so and intends to raise the issue at this month’s meeting of the local authority’s Regulatory and Technical Services Committee, which will make a recommendation to the full council in June.

He said he fully understood the backlash from the business community in Downpatrick and Ballynahinch in the wake of the price hike which he admitteds was wrong. He said no decision should have been taken until traders and members of the public were fully consulted.

Council officials insist the decision to increase tariffs was to align parking charges throughout the district and to use the revenue generated to maintain the 80 car parks within the council’s ownership.