THE PRESIDENT of Cookstown Chamber of Commerce has said the town has breathed a sign of relief after controversial plans to introduce on-street car parking charges may be scrapped by the new Regional Development Minister.

Brian Jordan said the 8,000 signatures gathered last month in opposition to the proposals sent a strong message to the new Minister that Cookstown want the plans to be curbed.

Plans to raise £37m over four years by making towns like Cookstown and Magherafelt pay for on-street parking left local businesses and traders outraged.

However, Mr Jordan said the news was welcomed right across the town, but he has pledged to meet with the Regional Minister Danny Kennedy to ensure the plans have been scrapped for good.

“Even though Danny Kennedy has said he will be reviewing the car parking charges policy, I have made a request to meet with the new Minister to speak to him about this matter,” the businessman told the Mail.

“We will look at him in the eye and make sure it’s guaranteed this will never happen. No one wanted them and it’s the will of the people that got us here. I just hope the Minister won’t do a Nick Clegg and go back on his word. We will see how it goes, but I just hope it’s off all together and not left to be introduced in a couple of years.

“We called in and launched a petition and were the only town to show such opposition to these parking charges. We gathered 8,000 signatures all together in Cookstown and we want to present this to the Minister.

“Despite that he has said this, we want him to know how the people of Cookstown feel. I think it’s reflected the huge support from everybody who signed this.

Newly elected MLA Sandra Overend also welcomed her party colleague’s news. The UUP MLA for Mid Ulster said: “The economy was a key concern on the doorstep during this election campaign, with people focusing on the need to create jobs and promote economic stability. Aside from the main economic portfolios, Regional Development with its responsibility for key infrastructure is one department which, if managed correctly, can help to improve overall economic activity across Northern Ireland, improve our businesses’ ability to operate efficiently and effectively and is key to getting this country back on the road again.

“Both Magherafelt and Cookstown are heavily reliant on town centre trade. We have a number of small and well respected businesses who have already suffered as a result of the recession. The impact of charging people for parking within these towns must not be understated. This could prove to be devastating for those businesses locally which barely survived.”