COOKSTOWN traders and town centre customers breathed a sigh of relief this week as a proposal to introduce on-street car parking charges was dropped. And Brian Jordan, President of the Chamber of Commerce said it was the signatures of 8,000 people across the district that helped ensure the policy was never introduced.
Mr Jordan and other members of the chamber were united in their opposition to the plan, which was first put on the table by previous Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy. Mr Jordan said current minister Danny Kennedy’s decision to bin the plans - which would have seen on-street parking introduced to Cookstown alongside 29 other towns across Northern Ireland - proves that lobbying politicians can really work.
He said: “The Chamber undertook an aggressive campaign early this year with the launch of a petition and the subsequent collection of 8,000 signatures from the public, showing their opposition to the plan, which would have severely hurt business in the town.
“We believe our campaign has greatly benefited traders in the town at a very difficult economic time and has shown that lobbying works.”
Mr Kennedy’s party colleague Sandra Overend said the key to negotiations came when the minister met with and listend to the concerns of people living and working in the towns.
“We have listened to local traders who were understandably concerned about the implications these charges would have on their businesses and Danny Kennedy has taken measures to relieve some of the immense pressure they are already facing during these tough financial times,” said the Mid Ulster MLA.
And Cookstown UUP Councillor Trevor WIlson added: “This is especially good news for Cookstown, a town where on-street parking is vital.
“I’d like to thank Danny Kennedy for listening to our concerns when he accepted the Chamber of Commerce petition.”
Mr Kennedy - whose decision was also praised by NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts - said he hoped traders and shoppers would be pleased with the move - but warned that the gap left by the £8m, which it was estimated could be collected in parking charges, will have to be plugged by making cuts elsewhere.
“I have to now find approximately £8.8million from other areas over the budget period, to make up the projected revenue lost from on-street parkingm2 he said when making the announcement on Tuesday.
“Given the pressures in all areas of my budget, this is a very difficult task. However, I am determined to minimise, as far as possible, the impact on frontline services in my Department.”
Mr Kennedy said he will endeavour to save £2million by ensuring greater efficiency within the department and £2million through reducting Road Service’s operational spend. He also hopes to generate £2.1m through off-street parking charges - and on-street in Belfast, Lisburn and Newry. And a reduction in the subsidy to Translink should save £2.7m.
Ian McCrea MLA added: “I am delighted that on street parking charges will not be introduced.
“We want to see traffic management and parking arrangements put in place which will encourage easy access and greater use of town centres.
“Any parking charges should only be justified by traffic management considerations and not simply in order to raise additional revenue.
“It is imperative that we don’t heap more misery on businesses that are barely afloat.”