Local business people are calling on the local authorities to save town centres in Mayo from desertion by allowing for leniency when it comes to car parking. Recommendations for such changes to restrictive parking regimes were outlined this week in the Retail Grocery Dairy and Allied Trades Association (RGDATA ) report entitled A Nightmare on Every Street. The RGDATA is seeking new guidelines to end the parking policy inconsistencies of local authorities and help combat the pull of shoppers to out of town retail centres with free parking.
Initiatives advised in the report—following a nationwide survey on town centre parking regimes across a selection of 16 towns and cities—include the introduction of more graded parking fees and fines, more flexible payment mechanisms and innovative pricing structures, free parking days, and set grace periods. The report also proposes a levy on out of town free parking and calls on the Government to provide new national guidance on car parking and smart travel to local authorities.
Rob Murphy, assistant manager with Murphy’s Centra in Ballinrobe, which is a member of the RGDATA, said: “We as a town are suffering,” from the current pay and display on street parking system in place. Mr Murphy, who is also a spokesperson for local Ballinrobe business organisation, Ballinrobe BEO, said that people are not spending enough time in town due to the price of parking and he, alongside other local businesses, is “pushing for one hour free parking” in the town centre. It is not just the financial side which is the problem, but according to Mr Murphy, socially people are losing out as they are rushing into town and not spending enough time meeting people while going about their daily chores. He said that the local authority might initially “be hit” from the loss of parking revenue, but he believes that if more people stay around town new businesses will be set up and the town will be “rejuvenated”, which will also lead to extra rates being paid. “The multi-national on the outskirts of town is creating a new town centre and we just want a fair playing field.”
President of the Claremorris Chamber of Commerce, Jimmy Flynn, also slated the fact that multi-nationals are drawing people to the outskirts of Claremorris with their free parking while small businesses have paid for parking outside their front doors. “It is hollowing out the town centre”, said Mr Flynn, and people are clearly “voting with their feet”. Mr Flynn said that it was noticeable among businesses in Claremorris that during the four week concession leading up to Christmas where parking was free in the town until lunch time that business owners reported that trade was “good and brisk”. The chamber president said that the chamber is not “advocating free parking” but wants to take example from the successful system in place in Westport—where there is no pay and display on their streets, only in the car park. Mr Flynn said that entrepreneurs “would step up” if the right conditions were there and new units would open, however paid for parking had led to fewer units being open and less rates being paid. Mr Flynn said that the Claremorris Chamber of Commerce met with Mayo County Council in December, with the local authority vowing to conduct an independent report into parking, etc, in the town. It is expected that the findings will be available in about four months time.
Castlebar businessman Oliver Kelleher, who is also the newly elected president of the Castlebar Chamber of Commerce, said that “it is wrong that local businesses have to bow to big businesses” which are gaining customers from free parking. Mr Kelleher said that his remit as president of the Castlebar Chamber will be to see “what we can do” in the town, such as addressing the parking issue and looks forward to working in conjunction with business people in town.
An Taisce, who has long fought for Irish town centres, have also asked that Ministers Hogan and Varadkar bring forward proposals to levy charges on out of town retail parking and for that levy to be passed on to car based customers of those out of town centre.