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Money, threats and toothless bylaws

Comment & Opinion

FAIRY FINES? Many locals do not adhere to the one-hour parking restriction in Westport, knowing full well the fines are unenforceable due to inadequate bylaws. Pic: Ciara Moynihan

Westport parking-charges controversy raises more questions than answers

Few stories we’ve reported in The Mayo News in recent years have created as much reaction in Westport as the current plans to introduce pay-and-display parking charges on the streets of the town.
Currently, parking charges are only applied in car parks in the town, making Westport an outlier compared to the other four towns (Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar and Claremorris), where there are parking charges both on-street and in car parks.
However, changes made to the 2018 council budget left a shortfall of €400,000, which the council proposes to bridge by introducing on-street parking charges in Westport.
It also proposed to introduce parking charges, for the first time, in eight smaller Mayo towns – but those plans appear to be well down the pecking order, behind Westport.

Your voice
Right now there is a period of public consultation on the matter, which will run until May 25. Anyone interested could do worse than review the plans on the council’s website.
What is being proposed is clear and well signposted, with some very detailed maps. If you do not agree with what is being proposed, well now is your chance to make your voice heard. After May 25 it will be too late.
But it has already attracted considerable debate from councillors and business people in the town.
The county council states that bringing in parking charges will be good for the town, as it will ensure a proper flow of traffic.
In last week’s Mayo News, well-known Westport retailer Don McGreevy effectively called the council’s bluff.
He argues that if the council is concerned about traffic flow, which he readily admits is an issue, all they need do is change the current inadequate bylaws to allow proper enforcement of current one-hour free parking limits on many streets.

Fines not enforced
Mr McGreevy said out loud what most people in Westport tacitly know: fines for parking violations in Westport are not worth the paper they are written on.
Because of inadequate bylaws, such prosecutions fall if they ever appear in court. And so you have a scenario where tourists come in and adhere to the parking regulations but most locals do not, knowing full well they will get away with it.
Don McGreevy admitted he was one of the biggest culprits, often with eight or nine vehicles parked on Westport’s Malls for the day, between company vehicles and staff cars.
He’s definitely not the only one, and such parking-spot hogging is problematic for people who come into the town and simply want to run into a chemist, a shop or to the church. Parking spaces are often thin on the ground with people parked all day in ‘one-hour limit’ spaces.

The real issue
Tightening up the bylaws to make this one-hour limit a reality, with fines worth the paper they are written on for any breaches, would certainly help traffic flow.
So would the council be happy with this?
The reality is no, it would not, because the issue at play here is not traffic flow. Fundamentally, this is about money.
It is heightening tensions between the county councillors and members of the council executive, tensions never too far beneath the surface in recent years.
And there is fault on both sides. The majority side in the council – Fianna Fáil and a group of Independents – effectively wrote a cheque they could not cash when they changed the budget last year.
At several meetings since we’ve heard plenty of arguments from councillors about how the council should look for other means of saving money to meet the shortfall.
And there likely are other sources, but we’ve yet to hear a cogent, reasonable suggestion.

‘Veiled threat’
But the executive too has been far from blameless here. Its members’ proposals for Westport have been put forward as ‘all or nothing’. There should be an opening for compromise and amendments.
Crucially, by withholding councillors’ general maintenance allocations (GMA) grants, funds used to supplement voluntary organisations in the councillors’ own region, they’ve put some of these organisations in a tight spot.
Such groups, be they in the arts, sporting or community sphere, have their own budgets for 2018 and have always been assured of ‘x amount’ from their local councillors. Now they are between a rock and a hard place too.
Some county councillors have used the phrase ‘veiled threat’ to describe the council’s withholding of GMA funding.  
Despite this, it appears that the West Mayo Municipal District will vote against the pay-and-display plans for Westport, and that will mean the stand-off will continue.
It’s an issue likely to get much worse before it starts to get any better.

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