BRIDGE TOO FAR? Parking on Westport's busy Bridge Street is currently free for an hour, but Mayo County Council wants to introduce charges. Grianghraf: Cormac Ó Cionnaith
Councillors strongly oppose new parking plans
Parking meters will end up in the river in Charlestown if pay and display charges are introduced in the east Mayo town.
That was the vow one local businessman made to Charlestown-based Cllr Gerry Murray.
It comes after Mayo County Council last week revealed plans to introduce parking charges in eight more Mayo towns – Ballyhaunis, Belmullet, Charlestown, Crossmolina, Foxford, Kiltimagh, Knock and Swinford.
Also proposed is the introduction of on-street parking in Westport – only the town’s four council-operated car parks charge. The other four towns that currently operate parking charges – Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar and Claremorris – charge both for on-street parking and car-park spaces.
There was widespread condemnation of the plans at last night’s monthly meeting of Mayo County Council.
Many councillors said the plans to introduce pay and display charges in smaller towns would have an adverse impact on businesses there.
“It is pure madness to bring in parking charges in Charlestown,” said Cllr Gerry Murray (SF). “We haven’t the footfall. I have been inundated with complaints this week. Businesses are hanging on by their fingertips as it is.
“The executive of this council must be totally out of touch with the struggles of the small towns. I can see the decline in Charlestown day by day. The two nearest towns Charlestown is competing with – Tubbercurry and Ballaghaderreen – have no parking charges.
“One businessman said to me that if the meters come into Charlestown it will be for one night only, because they’ll be in the river. That’s how angry people are,” added Cllr Murray.
Similar comments were made about the other seven towns where new charges are proposed.
As a consequence of the budget that was set for the council for 2018, it was agreed that an extra €400,000 would be raised through increases in pay-and-display charges. Some councillors argued this did not include new charges where there previously had been no charges.
Westport-based Cllr Christy Hyland (Ind) said he never wants to see on-street parking charges introduced in the town.
“There’s no way I’ll support putting in parking meters on the streets of the beautiful town of Westport. The people who planned the town would turn in their graves,” he said.
Cllr Jarlath Munnelly (FG) said the council would not have been having this discussion if not for the budget adopted by the Fianna Fáil/Independent majority in the chamber for 2018.
He said that budget saw a 7.5 percent rate increase and an increase of €400,000 in parking charges in order to pay back capital loans, and showed no regard for values the council should aspire to in allowing rural towns to grow.
There followed a lengthy spat between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors.
Cllrs Michael Kilcoyne and Gerry Ginty (both Ind) were the only councillors who did not outright reject the proposals. Both argued that once charges were introduced to their respective towns there were very few complaints, and claimed that the money raised from parking was a valuable source of income. “I’ve come up from Ballina to listen to a fairytale that rural decline is because of parking charges. The reality is that is it because of spineless, corrupt politicians. We’ve been enlightened here today, that rural decline is down to a 30c parking charge. If a child saw it on the ground, they wouldn’t bend down to pick it up,” said Cllr Ginty.
It was agreed that the matter would go back to each of the four municipal districts, where they could be adjudicated on individually. However, Mayo County Council Director of Finance Peter Duggan said that any shortfall in the €400,000 currently needed to balance the books would have to be found somewhere.
Councillors argued that it should not come from their general maintenance allocations, with suggestions the council should find the savings in its own departments.