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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Number of MEA councillors unite in opposition to introduction of car parking charges

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Carrickfergus councillors have united in their opposition to the planned introduction of charges at at one of the last remaining free car parks in their town centre.

It was agreed behind closed doors at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim borough council last month to commence a 12-week consultation process “as soon as possible”.

According to council minutes, however, the decision had “already been taken by council during the rates setting process”, councillors were told. The minutes stated that members “expressed a number of concerns regarding the introduction of charges including the need for workers’ permits”.

They were told officers would review costs for monthly and quarterly parking in relation to concerns raised “in respect of parking for town centre workers in the borough’s three main towns”.

Charges are also to be introduced at three council-run car parks in Ballymena town centre – two at Mount Street and another at Broughshane Street.

At last month’s meeting of the council’s Environment and Economy Committee, councillors agreed, also behind closed doors, to the introduction of an all-day parking ticket for workers at a cost of £2.50 and a six-monthly fee of £250 with consideration to be given for a quarterly charge at a number of council-owned car parks in Mid and East Antrim.

The council says this would “particularly benefit those availing of the facilities for working in the town centre”.

On Wednesday, Carrickfergus and Knockagh’s 10 elected representatives issued a joint statement voicing their opposition.

The statement says: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have announced their intention to introduce parking charges to Castle Car Park in Carrickfergus.

“All ten Carrickfergus councillors are absolutely against the introduction of any charges to this car park which is used by local people working and shopping in our town centre as well as those visiting the town.

“We feel that placing additional costs on working families especially during the current cost of living crisis is nothing short of scandalous as well as the potential damage to our front-line tourism product.

“We want to assure our constituents that we are united on this issue and will be fighting it at every available opportunity.”

An online petition opposing the introduction of any car parking charges at Carrickfergus Castle Car Park by the council has been established by Knockagh DUP Cllr Marc Collins and has attracted more than 360 signatures after just a few hours.

One of those who has voiced opposition is hotelier Kirsty Fallis, of Dobbins Inn, who commented:

“As a business owner in the town, over the years I have seen changes come and go, charges put into place over time and a reduction in footfall on all the town centre streets.

“The visitors to our town ask where is the shopping area and it’s sometimes hard to tell them.

“Applying charges to the main free car park in our town will potentially lead to job losses and even more reduction in footfall. The coaches that park at the castle car park to let off the tourist to go see the castle would potentially now not even stop and just drive on past.

“People who work in the town use this car park and I would be certain that they can’t afford to pay for a full day of parking. This really must not be allowed to happen. I hope that the councillors will all voted in get behind this and do all in their power to prevent it from taking place.”

Colin Robinson said: “It’s an absolute outrage that visitors and residents of Carrick will have to pay for parking."

Sam Knox said: "Carrickfergus inner harbour is one of the few areas of the town that was given to the people of the town on the proviso that it would always be free for the use of the town’s people.

“This was a long long time ago. Long before the outer harbour, marina and car park were built. The car park was built on top of reclaimed land that was once this harbour and that’s why it has remained free until now.

“We must not forget that we, the people of Carrickfergus have been granted free use of what was and still is the inner harbour area. For if we allow them to take away that freedom, they will never return it to us.”

A council spokesperson said earlier this week:

“Charges are being introduced to help offset the pressures council faced in keeping rates to as low as level as possible.”


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