Broughshane Street Car Park in Ballymena, used daily before charges were introduced by Mid & East Antrim Council (left), then after charges were introduced (right)
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is set to do a U-turn over recent car parking charges in Larne and Ballymena, it has been confirmed.
In a statement issued by the council following a meeting behind closed doors this week, the council has also agreed to drop plans to impose charges at Castle Car Park in Carrickfergus.
Charges were introduced by the local authority in three of the last remaining free town centre car parks in Ballymena and two in Larne last August with the same fees proposed at Castle Car Park in Carrickfergus.
They are now set to be reversed at two car parks at Mount Street and at Broughshane Street in Ballymena and at Circular Road East and Exchange Road, Larne, “in due course”, the council has said.
Several thousand signatures have been gathered through petitions opposing any charges at the car park which is adjacent to Carrickfergus Castle. An online petition started by 10 councillors in Carrick Castle and Knockagh gained 3,845 signatures.
A further 350 letters were brought to Carrickfergus Civic Centre by East Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart who described the proposed charges as “a stealth on ratepayers”.
Mr Stewart called for “common sense to prevail given this huge level of outcry/opposition”.
Former Larne mayors Roy Craig, who was an Independent councillor and Andy Wilson, Ulster Unionist, wrote to the council’s interim chief executive Valerie Watts stating that a “cursory glance at both Exchange Road and Circular Road East would tell you that hardly anyone is using these town centre car parks any more”.
Commenting on this week’s decision, a spokesperson for the council said:
“Following extensive consultation and engagement with residents and businesses, council has taken the decision that Carrickfergus Castle Car Park will remain free for public use.
“Council thanks all those who took the time to engage with the consultation process and express their views on the proposed changes. As a council, we have listened to the public’s feedback as demonstrated by the decision taken at this week’s meeting of elected members.
“Council also agreed that Mount Street car parks One and Two as well as that at Broughshane Street in Ballymena will return to free parking sites with the arrangements put in place soon.
“In Larne, car parks at Exchange Road and Circular Road East will also be free to use in due course.
“Council will continue to work closely with our town centre traders and business leaders to do all we can to support, promote and grow our economy and ensure the very best services, facilities and infrastructure for our citizens and visitors.”
Knockagh Alliance Councillor Aaron Skinner commented:
“Last year, council tried a range of revenue raising methods which didn’t work. Alliance has been able to work with other parties to ensure this negative impact is not felt in Carrick going forward.”
Andy Wilson stated: “The U-turn by the council regarding paying to park in Circular Road East and Exchange Road is a common sense decision. As myself and former mayor Roy Craig argued – as well as traders’ representatives and John Stewart MLA – the policy was ill-advised and not thought through. I welcome that a majority of current councillors have also come to that realisation.
“It was obvious with the vast empty spaces in those car parks that the revenue the council was expecting was never going to be realised. Clearly, the six-month review has shown that the revenue is not coming in and is just causing annoyance and inconvenience to town centre residents, office workers and shoppers.
“What is needed now is for the council to focus on the obvious and growing problems of town centre dereliction with some joined-up policies.”
He added there also needs to be some explanation about how the council has “got itself into such dire financial straits that they wanted to widen car parking charges and sell off property assets in the first place”.