Debate over devolving car park management

Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid and East Antrim District Council.  INLT 08-677-CON
Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid and East Antrim District Council. INLT 08-677-CON

Members of Mid and East Antrim’s Policy and Resources Committee have debated the Council’s response to the new Off-Street Parking Bill, to devolve the management of off-street car parks to councils from April 1 2015.

The bill has been drafted by the DRD, who currently hold those powers. The legislation does not extend to park and ride or park and share car parks.

Presenting a report on the new legislation’s impact, a Council officer said there were concerns over the “potentially significant downward adjustment of capital values” and lower generated income caused by recent reductions in parking charges.

This also made it likely that staff would receive a drop in enforcement charges, she said.

Members heard that the consultation paper also referred to the potential appointment of parking attendants by councils after existing contracts between the DRD and private sector providers expire in 2016. Members were told that the consultation assumes that councils would not decide to put in place their own staffing structure to carry out enforcement duties. The position of costs per staff member was also unclear.

The report suggested that co-operation between the DRD and Council would be needed in the future regarding disabled parking provision, loading bays and parking facilities to enhance the economy. Another concern was the provision of affordable parking for workers and for town centre residents.

Presiding Councillor Billy Ashe from Carrickfergus questioned the wisdom of the function transfer if Council was to be “locked into” the contract until 2016.

He added: “This will work quite well for Council areas whose car parks are generating income. In my area they would be a drain.”

Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said she would be meeting with the DRD and would raise issues.

Committee Chair Cllr John Stewart said he was concerned it might be impossible to vary parking prices on certain days, for example for free car parking.

Alderman James Brown asked if Carrickfergus, which has free car parks, would be pressurised into taking a “uniform approach” so every car park would charge drivers.

He said: “The ‘red peril’ doesn’t help to get people into our borough. They are waiting and pouncing and keeping an eye on everyone, when people come and when they leave. The facility at the minute is free.”

Committee members approved the recommendation that officers prepare a final paper for consideration by the full council.