TWO weeks after Portadown was revealed as one of Northern Ireland’s most ticketed towns, parking charges have been introduced in three currently free car parks.
The car parks which will require pay and display tickets from June are William Street (70 spaces), West Street (42 spaces) and Magowan Buildings (90 spaces).
The measure, implemented by Roads Minister Danny Kennedy, is on top of a £30 increase in penalty charge notices - rising from £60 to £90. The moves have led to traders, motorists and politicians accusing the Newry-Armagh MLA of “driving another nail into the coffin of the town”.
The Portadown Times reported earlier this month that one of the town’s most successful businessmen, Simon Dougan of The Yellow Door Restaurant, was considering moving his business elsewhere after being issued 18 parking tickets, most of which he received for parking his delivery vans on Market Street to unload them.
The paper also revealed that Portadown had 2,506 parking fines issued from January 1 to December 31 last year, placing the town 12th out of 82 cities, towns and villages for the most tickets issued.
There was a public outcry last September when Mr Kennedy hinted the three car parks would be ‘pay and display’, but the pleas not to proceed appear to have been ignored. And on top of this week’s charging, the DRD has been panned for ‘failing to inform the public’ that the main Magowan Buildings car park has converted from barrier ticket system to pay and display.
Upper Bann MP David Simpson, who is planning to raise the issue in Stormont, said, “Spiralling car parking charges, along with aggressive ticketing practices and other government budget measures, could force customers away from town centres.
“Portadown has been squeezed in the past by ministerial decisions on car park charging and this latest announcement will only compound that. There is a real danger that shoppers will simply desert town centres for out-of-town shopping centres with free car parking, leaving traders with little or no room for manoeuvre.”
The concensus from traders was given by West Street butcher Barry Knox, who said, “West Street will suffer most from this, and frankly, it’s poorly conceived and ill-advised. But this affects all of Portadown. These charges are being applied without any overall plan - it’s just a money-making exercise by the Assembly with no regard for the health of the town centres.
“Portadown has plenty of car parking spaces, but there’s no plan. There should be a mix of charging - free parking and ‘free for the first hour’. There’s neither rhyme nor reason with what’s happening.”
Over in Magowan One car park - which is currently free but charges will be introduced in June - Markethill motorist Ethel McNeill said she used the free park three or four times a week. “This plan is totally unnecessary and hits the motorist and shopper yet again.”
She added, “I enjoy shopping in Portadown, but with petrol prices shooting up and other costs of running a car increasing, these charges are ludicrous. They’re destroying Portadown.”
In the main Magowan Buildings car park, Stephen Ford said, “The change from barrier parking to ‘pay and display’ shows the contempt in which motorists are held. The first time I used it, the barrier was open and I thought it was free pending improvements. But when I returned to my car, a red-coat (traffic warden) was ready to swoop and I escaped by the skin of my teeth. The display units are like litter containers and difficult to use.”
This was reinforced by motorists Mary Farquhar and Maureen Knox who had to have tuition from other drivers to acquire their tickets. And Maureen was “stung” by the fact that the machines give no change, having to pay £1 for an hour’s parking.
Pensioner Sam Stafford said, “It’s all a money-making racket on the back of the motorist. In these austere times, people are struggling enough and Danny Kennedy - as the MLA for a neighbouring constituency - should have more thought.”
Mr Kennedy’s fellow Ulster Unionist Alderman Arnold Hatch said, “Portadown has enough charge parking - at Magowan Buildings Two, the High Street Mall, the main Bridge Street roundabout and the former Wellworth’s car park. And when one looks at how little the charge parks are used, it tells the story.
“Car parking charges are spreading like a cancer in Portadown. Will the Fair Green be next? And remember - these are publicly-owned car parks, so motorists are being charged for using their own facilities.”