Unionists at war over parking charges at North Coast tourist areas

The proposal, if it proceeds, would see parking charges introduced in seaside towns such as Portrush
The proposal, if it proceeds, would see parking charges introduced in seaside towns such as Portrush

A DUP MLA has branded opposition from the Ulster Unionist Party to proposals to introduce car parking charges in tourist areas on the North Coast as “farcical”.

The Causeway Coast and Glens Council, home to some of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, voted by 22 votes to 11 recently to introduce parking charges at certain locations.

These included seaside destinations such as Portrush, Portballintrae, Portstewart, Ballintoy Harbour and Ballycastle, where currently car parks operate free of charge.

The UUP, however, opposed the change and opted to take advantage of a mechanism known as a ‘call in’ to put a halt to the plans.

A ‘call in’ may be exercised in local councils when 15% of councillors believe a decision was not properly reached or would adversely affect a section of the community.

A lawyer is then asked to examine the motion and determine whether it should be reconsidered.

Explaining the party’s rationale for exercising a ‘call in’ of the parking charges decision, an Ulster Unionist Party spokesman said: “We feel that the potential impact on tourism and on local residents has not been explored in enough detail before taking such an important decision.

“We have no doubt that tourism will suffer, local residents will suffer due to displacement, and those who work in Portrush and indeed use the Portrush medical centre will be adversely affected.”

The spokesman added: “It is our hope that those who initially agreed to the decision will consider these factors and in turn support us in halting these charges until adequate groundwork and consultation are carried out.”

Ulster Unionist alderman Norman Hillis said it was up to people to lobby their councillors to object to the plans before it came back before council again.

“I have never had so many emails or phone calls about any issue as I have had over this,” he said.

“I think this is an opportunity for councillors to stop and have a rethink about how this will affect local residents, local businesses and what message we are sending out to tourists.”

The DUP, however, heavily criticised the UUP.

East Londonderry MLA Maurice Bradley, a former mayor of Coleraine, said: “The whole situation is farcical.

“I have no desire to see car parking charges introduced, but I do expect all the ratepayers of this borough to be treated equally.

“Parking charges in other towns have increased year on year; yet the introduction of charges in Portrush and other seaside towns has been met with raised eyebrows, despite the fact that the proposed tariffs are significantly lower than in other towns.

“The UUP call in is suggesting to me that that ratepayers in Coleraine should be subsidising free car parking in other areas of the borough.

“Why should those who live and work in Coleraine be treated any differently to those in other areas of the borough when we all pay the same rates?”

He accused the UUP of “trying to make themselves look important” by opting to make use of the ‘call in mechanism’ to oppose the decision.