South Down Traders Join In Stormont Protest
TRADERS from across Northern Ireland made a protest at Stormont last Thursday (21st April) against the proposal to introduce on-street parking in 30 provincial towns across the North. The protest was co-ordinated by the Northern Ireland Retail Traders’ Association (NIRTA).
Representatives from over 610 businesses were there from trading forums. From South Down were representatives Patrick Cassidy, Downpatrick Business Forum, Audrey Byrne, Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and Mary Tremlett of Kilkeel Chamber of Commerce.
Following on from a recent productive meeting at Denvir’s Hotel in Downpatrick, where a number of key speakers including two from NIRTA and the Association of Town Centre Managers addressed local traders, the movement of angry traders has now vocalised its deep concerns on the eve of the NI Assembly and local government elections. Many traders fear that they could be forced out of business in the longer-term by the retail giants in out-of-town shopping centres. There are other parallels they argue for this in towns in England and elsewhere. They have sent out a clear, unequivocal message to the new Assembly and all of the political parties: Park the Charges.
Patrick Cassidy, Chairman of Downpatrick Business Forum, said, “This proposal must be opposed. It will if passed at the new Assembly cause untold damage to the trading environment of our provincial towns. South Down’s Downpatrick, Newcastle, Kilkeel and Warrenpoint may be affected by the introduction of on-street parking.
“For over the last year traders have had a tough time mainly becsause of the recession, and introducing parking charges in town centres will drive business to the out-of-town retail parks. This has already been witnessed in England where many town centres have died, with traders finding it impossible to carry on business. We support the Northern Ireland Retail Traders’Association’s position on this and we need to act together before it is too late.”
Audrey Byrne, Newcastle traders’ chairperson, added, “We are here today with represenatives from the other NIRTA groups taking a stand. We want incentives for people to come to Newcastle. Towns like Newcastle need to be valued and appreciated. Many towns have unique circumstances and this needs to be taken aboard.
“We are fighting for our survival on this issue. A town such as ours has so many small businesses and their voices need to be heard. We urge the new Assembly members after the election to look seriously at this very important issue. There must be a better solution than just imposing parking charges.”
Mary Tremlett, chairperson of the Kilkeel traders said, “Kilkeel is facing huge difficulties at the moment. There are around 600 out of work with only a handful of jobs on offer. The recent closure of Toughglass has come as a body-blow to the town.
“We want people who visit Kilkeel to stop and browse around our shops, not to be deterred from parking there. We have a group of around 70 traders in our Chamber totally opposed to the on-street parking proposal. It will not be good for our local tourism industry and with so many nowout of work, this is an extra cost for them also.”
The Down traders are unanimous, vocal and angry, and are asking the politicians of all parties to oppose on-street parking. They feel that this matter has been foisted on them while trading conditions are difficult, and that politicians have not been able to grasp the political nettle and deal with it effectively.
But as the 5th May elections approach, the arguments and counter-arguments by the politicians on the issues surrounding on-street parking abound. This begs the question why this difficult issue was not fully dealt with during the Assembly and why it was introduced at the eleventh hour as the Assembly closed for the election. Was it just a fund-raising measure for government? Or was it genuinely an effort to ease up traffic manaegemnt in small towns? Or was there more to it than meets the eye? The traders are now asking questions.
It is definitely a political hot potato which will be passed into the next Assembly to be dealt with.
(Read this older Down News article for more background to the issue.)
Cllr O’Boyle Says On-Street Parking Hits The Poorest Most
Councillor Carmel O’Boyle said, “The SDLP is opposed to Sinn Fein’s proposal to use on-street car parking charges as a blunt revenue raising mechanism. We are supported in this position by traders in Newcastle, Castlewellan and across the North as well as the vast majority of people in our community.
“Last week, small businesses brought their protest to Stormont and made it clear that they too were opposed to Sinn Fein’s proposed on-street parking charges. There is no point in cutting back on public transport in rural areas and then hitting people with car parking charges. These charges will hurt hard-working families and the elderly in rural areas hardest and could lead to increased isolation for many people.
“This proposal from the Regional Development Minister shows a complete lack of imagination and vision. Local Sinn Fein representatives are trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes by attempting to distance themselves from their own minister’s proposal. It is wholly dishonest for them to do one thing in government and tell the electorate a totally different story. That is why their party centrally has refused to comment on the parking tolls plan, but people can see through their pre-election deception on the doorsteps.
“A proposal to introduce parking charges in Donard Park car park was never put before Down District Council, so no party was asked to support this. The idea to introduce car parking charges in Donard Park was at one time floated by the council’s former Chief Executive in response to Councillor O’Boyle’s ongoing concerns about the poor state of the pavilion there, that has two changing areas but caters for up to six teams on any given day. His idea was that by introducing parking charges in Donard Park, revenue could be raised to build a new pavilion. However his idea was rejected by SDLP councillors and local people at the time and never made it onto a council agenda.”
Clarke Responds To SDLP Claims
Councillor Willie Clarke MLA has responded to claims by the SDLP that Sinn Féin are trying to implement parking charges in Newcastle. He said, “The SDLP continue to miss the mark on the issue of the introduction of car parking charges in South Down.
“Firstly, no decision in relation to this matter has been taken and indeed it will fall under the remit of the new Stormont Executive who will implement any change of policy. If the SDLP are as opposed to car parking charges then I challenge them to nominate for Department of Regional Development and use this position to honour their recent rhetoric and stop the introduction of introduce car parking charges.
“The views being spouted by local SDLP councillors also contradict the position of the SDLP’s Conall McDevitt MLA, who in his role as Regional Development spokesperson said in a BBC interview on the 14th of March that he would back the planned charges if there was an overhaul of the public transport system.
“Under the Review of Public Administration proposals, on street parking charging will become a Council responsibility. Indeed it is not too long ago that Councillor Carmel O’Boyle proposed that Down Council should be charging for parking in places such as the Donard Park Newcastle. In a similar vein, Councillor Eamon O’Neill said clearly that he would support charges in Newcastle but not in Castlewellan. I challenged the SDLP to clarify their position on this matter.
“The only political party trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes are the SDLP who are at sixes and sevens when trying to implement a coherent and well thought out strategy on this and many other issues. In a bid to mask this fact, and score cheap political points, they attack Sinn Féin at every opportunity in a policy that causes increasing anger amongst nationalists.”