Mid and East Antrim Council rejects call for charges at its car parks

The lorry park off Circular Road roundabout, Larne, has been closed by Mid and East Antrim Council.
The lorry park off Circular Road roundabout, Larne, has been closed by Mid and East Antrim Council.

A call by Ballymena TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston to introduce charges at all council-owned car parks in Mid and East Antrim was dismissed in the chamber on Monday night.

The Bannside councillor described free parking as “a drain on the ratepayer”.

Mid and East Antrim currently maintains six car parks in the borough.

Mid and East Antrim’s Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said that whether it happens or not in the borough’s three towns, it would  take at least a year to get payment systems operational.

She indicated that there was no spare cash to set aside to put these systems in place.

Cllr Gaston said that if the council is carrying out car park repairs, then the local authority should be reimbursed for the expenditure.

The chief executive added: “Even if you decided tonight to apply the same policy across three towns, there are different socio-economic factors across the three towns.

“I would need money in to invest in an IT system and would have to pay for a barrier system. All that would take at least a year.”

However, Alliance Councillor Robert Logan, Larne Lough, said that “traders in Larne would not share the TUV’s enthusiasm for carpark charges”.

“They are struggling enough with a reduction in footfall,” he continued.

DUP Carrick Alderman Billy Ashe MBE reiterated his party does not believe the introduction of car park charges will “bring in the revenue that other councillors think it will. It is not for us.”

Knockagh Ulster Unionist Councillor Andrew Wilson said: “Traders are trying their best in Carrick and Larne.”

Commenting on the proposal, Larne businessmen Tom and Paul McMullen called the idea “seriously misguided”.

They said that at a time when Larne businesses were “already paying virtually the highest business rates in the UK, had the lowest level of small business rates support in the UK and were coping with the loss of footfall due to the closure of Dunnes, the last thing they needed were further actions which could make town centre shopping less attractive”.

“We would much prefer MEA modified Broadway so that it could be used to offer two hours free parking to shoppers, rather than engaging in activities which are likely to drive our customers away.

“MEA needs to get its costs under control and stop using local businesses and their customers as cash cows.”

Meanwhile, council has closed the Ramp Lorry Car Park, off Circular Road roundabout in Larne, and earmarked the site for development.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter