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Past time to pay for parking in Westport

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

IS it really the end of the world if tourists and, indeed, locals are forced to pay for on-street parking in Westport? Frankly, I don’t know what all the fuss has been about. Why should the citizens of Castlebar, Ballina, Claremorris and Ballinrobe, and the visitors to these towns, have to pay for on-street parking but those who pull-up on the streets of Westport be exempt? Surely, from a plethora of perspectives, Westport can better afford such charges than the other towns in the county where pay and display is in operation?
Comparatively speaking, Westport is a boom town. It is a tourism honeypot. It is the gateway to the Great Western Greenway and a significant stop-off for the thousands travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way. Its businesses thrive for at least six months of the year. Its hotels are bulging at the seams throughout the summer. Where is the evidence that visitors who arrive into a tourism town will keep driving once they see Pay and Display signs for – let’s call a spade a spade – relatively minimal charges for parking?
Have any of the protesting councillors or business people first-hand, prima facie, evidence of such dramatic decisions?
The closing date for submissions on the new bye-laws was May 25 last. It was subsequently confirmed that the county council had received a total of 76 submissions from the public.

Irony of meeting in Claremorris
WASN’T it just a bit ironic that there was a council meeting scheduled to debate this subject in Claremorris yesterday? A small town with none of the advantages enjoyed by Westport but where on-street charges have been imposed. No surpise it was cancelled.
So, it transpires that some 50 of the submissions have made particular reference to the fact that on-street parking charges would have a negative impact on businesses in Westport. Well, as one regular parker in the town, I will definitely not be driving to Castlebar (er! where there are on-street parking charges) to avoid the proposed charge, if eventually implemented. Bet you nobody else will, either.
In the interim, I totally agree that the policing of parking to ensure the one-hour limit is honoured. Undoubtedly, the town’s traffic wardens are endeavouring to ensure that this bye-law is adhered to but it is probably nigh on impossible to police this properly during the high tourism season. However, if charges are implemented this will be much easier to police, from a practical point of view.  

Money, money, money
THE dogs on the streets know that the extension of on-street parking charges is really all about money – about balancing the budget.       
It is worth remembering that the proposal to introduce parking charges also includes Ballyhaunis, Belmullet, Charlestown, Crossmolina, Foxford, Kiltimagh, Knock and Swinford – all of which have no on-street or council car park charges. Basically, this is a bid to raise significant funds for the county council’s cash-strapped coffers.     
Earlier this year, Director of Services, Tom Gilligan confirmed at a Roads and Transportation Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) meeting that the council had collected €1.9 million in revenue from parking in 2017.
Tellingly, he projected that the council expects to bring in an additional €503,000 a year with these proposals, the majority of which (€321,000) would come from the West Mayo Municipal District.
A pithy comment at that SPC meeting says it all for this writer. Eddie Maguire was responding to Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Brendan Mulroy, who had opined that it behoved the council to ‘protect the golden [tourism] nugget that is Westport’.    
Responding, Maguire argued that the north Mayo capital of Ballina was also ‘a major tourism destination’. He highlighted the fact that Ballina had contributed €701,858.10 from parking charges in 2017 while the Westport contribution was significantly lower at €184,691.51.
Mr Maguire said: “There has to be a sense of fairness.”
Exactly. Fairness can never be faulted.  What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.