On-Street Parking Given Thumbs Down By Down Traders

Patrick Cassidy clearly set out their opposition to the installation of on-street parking meters in local towns including Downpatrick and Newcastle. He said, “My family have been trading for three generations in Downpatrick for 90 years. “We were here long before the big chains and multi-nationals. The Forum is totally opposed to this proposal, and with a possible development of more out of town retail shopping outlets being built in Dunleath Park, the business future for the small trader is looking more uncertain. “For this reason we have invited the representatives of the political parties here today to gather cross-party support for our cause. This issue affects towns across Northern Ireland as well as in Co. Down and Down District. But the parking meter proposal just looks just like another way of raising money for the Executive, for the public purse, without any direct benefits going back onto the town centres themselves from the proceeds. [caption id="attachment_22669" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Local traders and politicians grappled with the issue of on-street parking planned to be rolled out across 30 provincial town in Northern Ireland, including Downpatrick, Newcastle and Ballynahinch."][/caption] “There needs to be a think tank with teeth set up through the DSD/DRD to pull different agencies and sectors together to grapple with this issue.” There was definitely an aire of despondency, anger and frustration in the room as the speakers addressed the audience of business people. Speaking at the meeting, South Down MP Margaret Ritchie lent her support to the traders and said that it was not a good time to introduce such a measure when the economy was in a recession and traders were finding business difficult. She said, “I understand the injustice of these parking charges and it will lead to less people shopping in town centres for your services and products. We must support our local businesses in Down. We don’t have many big businesses here, they are maily small, and they are the ones who create the wealth in our local economy. “We need to promote our businesses along with the local business bodies that represent their interests, and we all need to be shopping locally. “Our area is to be an economic hub as set out in the regional development strategy and I hope the future NI Executive reverses this on-street parking proposal. Our area of Down has an important tourist industry with the St Patrick Centre and the Mournes and I want to see local businesses here pump primed.” Ms Ritchie added that it was important that he politicians did all they could as legislators in the Assembly to ensure that this proposal did not develop further. Glynn Roberts, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Retail Trade Association (NIRTA), said, that the introduction of parking meters to provincial town centres was “madness”. He added, “With large retailers offering free parking in out of town sites, there is a serious threat to town centres and local businsses. “The possibility of receiving a £90 parking fine will do nothing to attract shoppers to our town centres. They will not risk it. This is wrong. NIRTA has set out its position on the threat to the 30 towns across Northern Ireland. “There is an argument that on-street parking is about trying to create turnover in the small towns and improving traffic flow, and is aimed at employes hogging parking spaces. This parking proposal is just about raising £37 million  revenue. The big stores should really be paying more in rates. NIRTA is therefore working will the traders’ bodies to try and resolve this. “Will we have town centres in 20 years time?” asked Mr Roberts. “NIRTA will be writing to all of the parties to oppose this and ask for their suppoprt. We need to have it stopped now.” Audrey Byrne, Chairman of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, said, “There are many small businesses in Newcastle and there is a strong local market. We have fought this issue before and managed to keep on-street parking charges out of Newcastle. “We are all nevertheless hanging in by our fingernails and profit margins are being cut. Suppliers are having to wait longer for payment and it is a struggle balancing the books month to month. It is just not easy. This proposal has come at a very bad time economically. We really need to bring visitors to Newcastle, and on-street parking charges will just chase them away. They will just be worrying about the parking meters.” Mary Tremlett, Chairman of Kilkeel Chamber of Commerce, said, “Kilkeel is located less than an hour from Newry and if parking charges are introduced businesses will be affected. Kilkeel is a town with its fishing industry facing hard times, with 568 people chasing six vacancies, and we are coming out of a very severe winter. Spending power is down. “We are concerned too about digging up the streets after the new street scheme to install these meters. Already there are empty shops in the town with no prospects of tenants. We need to be looking at the bigger priorities in developing a tourist industry in the Mournes.” Andrew Irvine of the Association of Town Cenre Managers said, “These matters of planning need to be sorted out in the town halls as they are in the UK and the ROI. The Review of Public Administration needs to be stalled. “Banbridge is now facing the largest ever out of town shopping store and now we have to face the problems of car parking charges on top of this. There is something fundamentally wrong. Government needs to be joined up on this. We want a level playing field. There is something fundamentally wrong here and it is to the detriment of jobs and leading to an uncertain future for small town centre businesses.” Political Represnetatives Also Offer Support Political representatives at the meeting fully supported all of the speakers, and South Down MLA Jim Wells said, “Down District Council has in fact passed a motion condemning his development. However, the trend is very much against us. It is not on for workers to park and block up our town centres. When the building trade was in better  times, it was quite common for workers to park their cars in Downpatrick and get a ride to Belfast. This wrong, regardless of the right that these drivers feel they have. “Therefore, the option of offering 2-3 hours free parking is reasonable. There is alot of anger out there, but this is just a proposal at this stage. Traders are facing hard times. You just have to look at the small businesses going bust in the Belfast Telegraph on a Friday evening to see what is happening. It was the shopkeepers who kept our economy alive during the Troubles while developers gobbled up land. We don’t need to make policy changes. No one wants this to go through the Assembly. My hometown town of Lurgan has suffered badly with out of town shopping centres. There are shops lying derelict now in the South side.” John McAllister UUP MLA said, “We are totally opposed to this idea of on-street parking. Even the timing of it is completely wrong. There appears to be no plan to improve public transport in parallel with the proposal. It just seems to be about raising revenue. “How we manage our town centres is a very different issue from reveue raising. We need to support Downpatrick, Newcstle and Killeel traders and not kill them off. Toursim will be a very important aspect of our local economy in the future and we have to take this into consideration too how it will impact on tourists and visitors.” Sinn Féin Councillor Liam Johnston said, “We support the local traders and we need to address this issue directly with the Department as soo as possible. If parking is free for the first 2-3 hours in our town centres it gives us time to return to our cars. This is just common sense. Recently we saw parking fees in Downpatroick off-street parking rise from 30p to 40p per hour while the rate in Ballynahinch changed from 30p per hour extended to three hours. We have to look at the broad issue. This is just a disgrace.” Green Party Councillor and local trader Cadogan Enright said, “Local businesses are facing increasing costs, lower turnover, and this parking proposal by the Minister is just taking us all for granted. Jobs growth needs to come from existing businesses, not importing big business into the area.” He described the process of jobs being “displaced” into these larger companies and added, “Another retail park based in Dunleath Park will cause more difficulties. We need to change our attitudes about development and the Assembluy needs to take this aboard. After all, 98% of businessses in Co. Down are small businesses, and that is where the wealth is generated.” John Clarke, General Manager of Gordon’s Chemists, in addressing the political representatives, said, “People come to our towns from all over the EU. We must not make the same mistakes that have been made in English towns 30 years ago where town centres are lying empty. “I am concerned that there is not a level playing field. Small businesses can compete with big businesses. This is just a terrible piece of legislation. People just do not stop in towns where there is poor parking. It will be an awful waste of money invested into the Public Realm improvements in our towns if this goes ahead. There needs to be more joined up thinking between the DRD and the DSD on this. We need a new planning policy.” Ashley Ray, Forum member, said as the meeting drew to a close, “There is a complete lack of logic in this proposal. It should all be about creating jobs in our local towns. If we do not invest in our communities there will be a huge decline in business and centres such as Downpatrick will be affected. The Executive needs to clearly set out a plan and we need to see how we fit into it.” It remains now to be seen how the local politcians will act on the plea from the Downpatrick Business Forum. But it begs the question, how did this top down decision from the DRD and Assembly escape the undivided wrath of the parties prior to the NI Assembly closing before the May 5th election ? DRD Respond To Down News Inquiry A spokesperson for the DRD said, “”Any proposals will go out to consultation. This is a challenging project and it will take time to roll out to all centres given the legislative changes required and the operational infrastructure to be provided. Plans will be put in place to try and implement this during 2012/13.‬ “In the current Budget 2011-15, DRD has made proposals to extend on street parking charges. It is proposed to extend on-street charging from the three cities which already have on-street parking charges, Belfast, Lisburn and Newry to all towns and cities covered by the Sub Regional Transport Plan and the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan. “This extension of on-street parking charges will provide a fair and equitable system that charges a reasonable fee for the prime parking locations in all towns. This will also encourage the turnover of spaces available and therefore allow more vehicles and people to use town centres.” “Towns/Cities in SRTP currently without on-street parking charges in Co Down. are Ballynahinch, Banbrid, Comber, Downpatrick, Kilkeel, Newcastle, Newtownardds, Warrenpoint. “Towns in BMTP currently without on-street charging include Bangor. “Also, some towns not included in the SRTP and BMTP will also be assessed to gauge the viability of implementing on-street parking charges.”]]>