The DUP has strongly defended Causeway Coast and Glens council plans to introduce parking charges.
Alderman John Finlay said: “For some years now, monies raised from charges levied on car parks in Coleraine, Ballymoney and Limavady have helped to maintain all the borough’s car parks and also to keep the council’s district rate as low as possible.
“Causeway Coast and Glens is the only council to freeze rates this year and, I believe, the only council in Northern Ireland ever to have struck a zero rate rise three years in a row. That has to be good for homeowners and businesses alike.
“As with all infrastructure, car parks require investment, and in the last two years council has spent £200,000 in maintenance with plans for a further £300,000 this year.
“The decision to introduce charges in car parks in Portrush and Portstewart has not been taken lightly, but it was carried with support from across six political parties following extensive consultation, consideration and debate.
It seems unfair that people visiting towns such as Coleraine and Ballymoney have to pay, whereas those visiting Portrush and Portstewart do not. This creates an imbalance which gives one town a competitive advantage over another.
The charges in Portrush and Portstewart will be seasonal and will only be for the summer period from Easter to the end of September. In addition, Sunday charges will be restricted to 1pm-6pm to facilitate churchgoers.
The rate of 40p per hour or a cap of £2 per day does not seem extortionate. Furthermore, the new arrangements will be reviewed in October in order to assess their impact.
“I feel strongly that the financial burden of maintaining the borough’s car parks must be more evenly shared by all the towns, and this new arrangement will help to secure greater equity.”
The TUV also backed the new charges, but party member Sharon McKillop expressed reservations about their introduction in Portballinatrae.
“I recognise that car parking charges are unlikely to be welcomed by people but I also recognise that they are unfortunately a necessary means of fundraising for the council,” she said.
“That said, charging needs to be sensible and take consideration of local circumstances.
“That is why I proposed that we should remove Portbalintrae Beach Road from the designated list for proposed seasonal charging.
“The majority of the car park users are local people and not holidaymakers. Imposing a charge here will impact on the health and well-being of some of the most deprived people in the Borough. Locals use the area to exercise and spend quality time with their families and this parking charge could deter them from doing so. It is important to remember as well that the village hall is located here also.
““However, these arguments were rejected with my proposal only receiving the support of my TUV colleagues and a single other councillor. It should be noted that it was agreed that an area will be cordoned off offering free parking to locals who use the village hall and shop but this would not have been even considered had it not been for my proposal and I continue to believe that the whole park should remain free of charging.
“I am disappointed that people will have to pay to park in this area but believe it is important that people know that there was a voice of opposition raised to the proposal in the council and that it did lead to council subsiding to a small concession for village hall users.”