The council has called on the Transport Minister to rethink his decision to increase car parking charges in Lisburn city centre.
There was widespread anger at this week’s full council meeting as members from across the political parties rose to criticise the 20p increase in on-street car parking charges, due to come into effect next month.
The council stressed that it had no responsibility for on-street car parking and had not been consulted about any increases levied by the Department for Infrastructure, much to their dissatisfaction.
In an effort to have the price increase reversed, the council agreed to write to Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard expressing their deep concern at his decision and the lack of any consultation about it.
Members of the public, councillors and the city’s Chamber of Commerce have all voiced their dismay at the decision, which was made without consultation.
Criticising the price jump, Chairman of the Council’s Development Committee, Councillor Uel Mackin said: “I am both surprised and dismayed that this increase in on-street parking fee has been announced. Surprised, because such measures have not, to the best of my knowledge, been discussed with any interested stakeholders. Certainly there has been no consultation with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
“This is a totally disgraceful and unacceptable action and I will be raising the matter at Council Meeting on Tuesday evening. Dismayed because it demonstrates that the Minister and his department appear to have no understanding at all of the commercial pressures on our City Centre traders. He has utterly failed to recognise this difficulty and the efforts being made by Council to give them some degree of support. In reality the Minister ought to be bringing on-street parking tariffs more into line with those made by Council in off-street car parks.
“When faced with a 33% increase most certainly the Infrastructure Minister, Chris Hazzard’s comments that “on-street parking provides a vital resource for shoppers and visitors and is an important support for the economic and social life of towns and cities” sound very hollow indeed,” said Councillor Mackin.
UUP Councillor Alex Redpath told The Star that the increase was “a kick in the teeth for shoppers and traders.”
He said: “The Department has repeatedly insisted that on street car parking charges are not a money making exercise but rather a means of ensuring turnover of parking spaces. This 25 per cent price hike is naked profiteering by the department.
“Lisburn traders have a hard enough time competing against out of town centres without losing further trade to increased parking charges.”
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Edwin Poots also condemned the price hike. Mr Poots brought a motion to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year calling for greater flexibility including a period of free parking.
“It makes it all the more disappointing that SF Minister of Infrastructure Chris Hazzard would ignore the calls from MLAs, traders and the community,” he said.
“Parking is an issue which has encouraged business out of town, damaged facilities and has caused real hardship in town and city centres. The Department would be better to cut costs by reducing the numbers of redcoats charged with enforcing parking.”
Heavy handed enforcement has led to many decent citizens fined for minor indiscretions, discouraging particularly older people from using towns.
Assembly Member Jenny Palmer, the UUP’s Spokesperson on Infrastructure, described the Sinn Fein Minister’s decision as “an undemocratic and unacceptable diktat which will harm Lisburn and undermines the role of the committee at Stormont”.
Mrs Palmer added: “It is unbelievable that this was not brought to the committee or public consultation. The first we learnt of this was in an official press release.
“The Minister needs to urgently reconsider this decision on increased parking fees and actually reverse it or at least lower the costs of parking to encourage more people to shop in Lisburn.”
Alderman Allan Ewart, past Chairman of the Development Committee on Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council said: “I am deeply disappointed to learn that the Infrastructure Minister has agreed to increase on-street parking charges by 20 pence per hour, in Lisburn City Centre. At a time when we as a council body are doing all we can to encourage more footfall into the city centre, this will discourage shoppers from our city centre. As a Council we have kept off-Street parking charges at £1 for three hours, to encourage more people to come to Lisburn to shop. The Minister has not taken on board the wishes of city centre businesses and local representatives. I will be writing to the Minister to make my feelings known and see if we can get this decision reversed.”
In a joint statement with business organisations in Belfast and Newry, Lisburn Chamber of Commerce said: “The only winners from this hike are the big out of town superstores with their unfair competitive advantage of free car-parking and no over zealous traffic attendants”
“We are seeking an immediate meeting with the Minister and will engaging with our local councils and MLAs to lobby for this hike to be dropped.”