THE PARKING squeeze in Lurgan just got tighter as 72 spaces in the town now must be paid for.
Twenty spaces in Moores Lane and 52 in Waring Street are now subject to parking charges, following an edict from the Department of Regional Development,
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy, however, reaffirmed his pledge not to introduce 2011 budget plans to roll-out on-street parking charges across Lurgan.
However DUP MP David Simpson said there is now a real danger that shoppers will leave town centres.
Mr Kennedy said: “As part of the 2011 budget plans Roads Service is proposing to introduce car parking charges in two Roads Service car parks, which were previously free.”
Under the proposals a charge of 30 pence per hour for three hours will be introduced from early June in the Moore’s Lane 2 and Waring Street 3 car parks in Lurgan.
The Minister pointed out there are 707 free car parking spaces in Lurgan
“The off-street car parks may be a walk from the town centre but offer a free alternative to charged parking.”
He said the charges would encourage turnover of car parking spaces to help improve traffic management and promote the commercial and tourist vitality.
The Minister also confirmed an increase to penalty charge notices, (PCNs), from £60 to £90, from early June 2012. Anyone who parks illegally risks receiving a penalty charge notice and will be liable for a fine of up to £90. By paying promptly within 14 days of getting the PCN, a 50% discount will apply reducing the fine to £45.
The original level of £60 fine for a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) was introduced when parking enforcement was decriminalised to the Department in 2006. There has been no increase since then.
Upper Bann MP David Simpson has reiterated his concern at the pressure placed on the retail sector by spiralling car parking charges coupled with aggressive ticketing practices along with government measures in the recent budget that, taken together, could force consumers away from town centres and result in further derelict retail buildings as the local business community is placed under ever greater strain.
“In the recent budget the Chancellor chose to prioritise a tax giveaway to the richest section of people in the UK. The money swallowed up by that millionaire’s bonanza could have been used to help keep fuel costs lower or for a temporary reduction in VAT or other measures that could have brought relief to small businesses and could have put more disposable income into the pockets of consumers.
“It is a matter of profound regret that he chose not to do so. We have been left with the very Tory cuts legacy that the DUP warned about.
“We also have the additional pressure that the Tory cuts assault on Northern Ireland has imposed upon our own budget.
“I have warned in the past of the dangers to our retail economy and town centres of the combined impact of increasing car parking charges and aggressive ticketing practices. This latest announcement from the DRD Minister is a further cause for worry.”
“Lurgan has been squeezed in the past by ministerial decisions on car park charging. This latest announcement will only compound that. We have now lost more free car parking spaces as a result of this announcement. There is a real danger that shoppers will simply be given more encouragement to desert town centres for out of town shopping centres with free car parking, leaving traders with little or no room for manoeuvre.”
Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has defended party colleague and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy.
Mrs Dobson, who was this week appointed Assembly Private Secretary to Mr Kennedy, said, “The Minister has recently confirmed that the DRD needs to find £30m over the current budget period in order to deliver its frontline services.
“I am fully supportive of local business and know full well the financial difficulties which they are presently going through. However, the DRD is not immune to the present financial situation and is itself operating within a constrained financial position. This is a legacy issue from Sinn Fein’s time at DRD.”
Responding to comments from, Jo-Anne Dobson, Sinn Féin Councillor Johnny McGibbon said: “We would all like to see a situation where town centre parking charges were unnecessary.
“Unfortunately we are faced with a financial reality imposed from Westminster and are forced to make the most of available resources.
“The previous DRD Minister put in place a consultation process to identify circumstances, where parking charges would be viable, an acceptable rate for such charges and the needed exemptions.
“At the time the UUP volubly opposed both the consultation and the concept of parking charges. That same party has now accepted that consultation was the proper course to take, have accepted, at least in some measure, the result and have gone a step further by actually introducing charges.
“It is nonsense for Ms Dobson to imply that these charges were a legacy from the previous incumbent.
“Minister Kennedy makes his own decision and he has had to accept the political reality of the situation, the correctness of his predecessor and indeed has introduced a more stringent regime than previously envisaged.”.