CHARGING could be introduced at Newry, Mourne and Down Council car parks across the district.
A new off-street car parking strategy is currently being drawn up which has been described as a “root and branch review” of existing provision, with charging one of the options that will come under the microscope.
A formal public consultation to help devise the new strategy has been launched and the local authority is to appoint consultants to oversee the exercise which is due to end on March 17. A detailed report will then be prepared for local politicians to discuss.
Views are being sought in relation to the use of existing car parks and their future management across the council area with the focus locally on Ballynahinch, Castlewellan, Downpatrick, Newcastle and Saintfield.
Council chief executive, Liam Hannaway, said the strategy is in the very early stages of its development with the public being given an opportunity to help shape it. He explained the strategy will look at the locations of car parks and how they are managed, with the introduction of charging one possibility.
“We want to take an overview on all the car parks we own and are responsible for right across the district. The normal principle is that the closer car parks are to a town centre there is a fee to use them, with those further out normally free,” he explained.
Mr Hannaway explained the new strategy will look at how many people use car parks and if they could be better managed. He said the council owns a number of car parks, with several others transferred to its ownership by Transport NI as part of the review of public administration.
“The strategy will determine if we are managing our car parks properly and are we charging for the ones we should be or are there car parks where charges currently apply that we should be making free to encourage more people to use them better?
“Do we have too much car parking provision and are there car parks which no one is using? Are there other sites we could use for car parking or do any of our parks have development potential? The strategy is taking that wider perspective of all our car parks.”
Mr Hannaway said the exercise is linked to the council’s asset management strategy which is looking at what properties it has which are basically doing nothing, but which could offer future development potential.
Councillors Robert Burgess and Willie Clarke have mixed views on the possibility of charges being introduced at car parks which are currently free to use, highlighting the need for elected representatives to closely scrutinise the new strategy.
“All 11 councils in Northern Ireland are discussing the car parking issue and I have major reservations about charging people to park,” declared councillor Burgess. “I believe we have to tread very carefully on this issue. There could be a backlash at plans to introduce charging at car parks which have been free to use for generations.”
Councillor Clarke said money to maintain car parks has to be found from somewhere, suggesting charging for car parks close to town centres to deter all-day parkers and free up spaces for shoppers and visitors may be worth exploring.
“Maybe car parks on the outskirts of towns could be free to use. If charging is introduced, the scale of the tariffs needs to be closely examined. The bottom line is that councillors are going to have to give very careful consideration to car park charges which will inevitably be a sensitive issue to some,” he continued.
“It is also important charges are not detrimental to the economic wellbeing of our town centres and maybe the time is right for some imaginative thinking on the way forward for our car parks.”
Anyone with a view on the development of the new off-street parking strategy is asked email their thoughts to consultants Ove Arup & Partners Ltd at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 17.