CRAIGAVON Borough Council is trying to set up a meeting with five Assembly ministers in a bid to have the latest round of car parking charges in Portadown reviewed.
The decision followed a bad-tempered debate on Monday night when the two main unionist parties (DUP and UUP) were at each other’s throat.
The exchange took place on the very day that three additional car parks - at Magowan Buildings, West Street and William Street - were initiated with pay and display charges.
Colin McCusker (UUP) accused DUP members of “simply having a pop at DRD Minister Danny Kennedy”, whose Department imposed the charges at 25 car parks throughout Northern Ireland.
And Mr McCusker pointed out that DUP MLAs, Aldermen Sydney Cairns and Stephen Moutray, had, in fact, supported the hike of fines for illegal parking from £60 to £90.
This followed the proposal by Councillor Gladys McCullough, calling on Mr Kennedy to scrap the charges, adding that they would have a devastating effect on struggling businesses in the town centre.
“It’s easy to sit in Stormont and impose these charges,” she added. Her DUP colleague Alan Carson pointed out that Minister Kennedy had proposed imposing charges on 25 car parks throughout Northern Ireland, “and promised consultation”. He added, “He didn’t make one single concession, which shows the consultation process is a sham. The move was simply revenue driven, without a thought for the plight of traders.”
He added that motorists couldn’t even get change out of the current pay-and-display machines.
Mr McCusker (UUP) claimed that the proposal was simply a cheap shot at Mr Kennedy, adding that the DUP should know better, given that every government department has to live strictly within its budget.
“Town centres are not the sole responsibility of one government department,” he added. “This rests with Nelson McCausland (DUP), the DSD Minister, Arlene Foster (DUP), the Minister for Enterprise and Alex Attwood (SDLP), the Environment Minister.” He also stated that Sammy Wilson (DUP), the Finance Minister held the purse strings in the “dysfunctional Executive”
Alderman Sydney Anderson retorted that he had voted in favour of the increase in fines, but this had nothing to do with the footfall in town centres.
Sinn Fein’s Gemma McKenna tabled an amendment that the charges should be “reviewed” rather than scrapped, and after a series of complicated votes, the McKenna amendment was accepted on the casting vote of Deputy Mayor Arnold Hatch.
Finally, Councillor George Savage came in with an amendment that they should request a meeting with the five Ministers - Kennedy, Foster, Wilson, Attwood and McCausland - and this was unanimously agreed.
“We’ll be lucky if we get them all,” said Alderman Hatch. “But we’ll do our best.”