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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Councillors respond to decision on car parking charges

The majority of Councillors and their parties have voted against the introduction of an increase to car parking charges across the borough, whilst DUP members have voted in favour.

Yesterday evening councillors discussed plans of increasing car parking charges across the borough, while also introducing charges to previous free to use car parks, including those in coastal areas of the borough on a seasonal basis.

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A vote held by councillors resulted in the motion to introduce these changes being lost.

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Other than Cllr Adrian McQuillian, who recently questioned his membership with his party after a 6 month suspension, other DUP members present voted in favour to introduce the changes.

The Ballymoney Bubble have asked DUP group leader Aaron Callen for a statement which will be available shortly.

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PUP Cllr Russel Watton, who abstained from the vote, has suggested that changes to car parking charges would generate £600,000 to almost £1m per year and that currently 71% of the total revenue from car parking in the entire Borough comes from two car parks, The Mall and Abbey Street, both in Coleraine. Cllr Watton called this ‘disproportionate, unfair and inequitable’.

Cllr Watton went on to say:

“Why should the Coleraine ratepayer and others carry the burden for the entire Borough?
Sinn Fein in particular are good at lecturing everyone on equality.Where is the equality in this? Of course when the concept doesn’t suit it flies out the window.

“I emphasized that resident’s parking in these towns was a must. Although one M.L.A. has been waiting a year on a reply from the relevant department on this issue. Even a modest proposal last year for a seasonal rate from March to September was turned down. An all day parking rate of £2 was deemed excessive. This would have generated almost £1/2 million equating to 1% on the rates.

“The problem is simple car parking charges are acceptable on a NIMBY basis (not in my back yard) and certainly not in their District Electoral Areas. They are quite happy for Coleraine to carry the burden.When the rates inevitably go up ratepayers should remember who turned down proposals that would have alleviated them.”

UUP’s Cllr Joan Baird spoke following the meeting yesterday evening about ‘citizens’ not having a parking charge ‘tax imposed’ on them.

“I am very pleased that tonight’s vote was in favour of keeping car parking charges at the same level and at the same car parks that we currently charge. This means that our citizens will be able to continue to enjoy going to the beach or for an ice cream without having a tax imposed in the form of parking charges.

“It’s important to keep recreational areas free for people to enjoy our lovely coastal areas. We as a Council have the responsibility of ensuring that we help improve the health and well being of our citizens and this measure is important in achieving that goal.”

The SDLP group have also released a statement following the decision saying that, ‘Car parking charges are certain to have a detrimental impact on our constituents, our businesses and our tourism industry’ and that ‘it is our duty to seek to grow this revenue not stunt economic growth by dissuading visitors’ and that ‘any plan to charge for car parking here would also necessitate gross improvement in public transport and ‘active travel’, such as our walking/cycling infrastructure’.

Going onto speak about the consultation on proposed charges, the SDLP also said:

“Car parking charges are certain to have a detrimental impact on our constituents, our businesses and our tourism industry.

“We don’t believe that Council’s consultation has been adequate. We have been flooded by emails from concerned residents, businesses and community groups who do not feel like they were given due consideration in the process. Proper consideration also needed to be given to enforcement technology and methods. It has been well-documented in other areas that enforcement has led to “nuisance parking” by those wishing to avoid parking fees. This is the last thing we want for our residents.

“We have heard very little tonight that makes us think that car parking charging would produce anything other than a real negative return for our constituents. The charges are bad news for business, residents and tourists.”

Sinn Fein also voted against the decision to introduce seasonal car parking charges as they had when similar proposals where put before council two years ago with the party’s group leader, Cllr Cara McShane, saying that it is ‘welcoming now to see other Councillors agree with our position’.

Cllr McShane went on to say:

“In the absence of meaningful and localised consultation, Sinn Féin remain opposed to the introduction of seasonal car-parking charges at various harbour locations across the district. 

“Councils are supposed to be a service provider, not a revenue generator.

“This is not to do with the nominal payment being requested, but rather the lack of consideration that has been given to specific areas. We did not want to cherry-pick but requested that the proposals all be put on hold, until there was a full analysis and appraisal carried out of the various sites by District Electoral Area. A ‘one size fits all approach’ will not work.

“We are fortunate to live in a scenic coastal area and we appreciate that it takes a lot of public money to maintain facilities. However, while pushing through proposals to plug a gap in finances, the impact on residents, communities and tourism has not been considered.”

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