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Westport rejects on-street parking charges

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Councillors reject parking charges, but funding reduced as consequence

Anton McNulty

Westport will not introduce pay-and-display on-street parking charges. Councillors have voted against the recommendation of Mayo County Council officers to introduce the controversial charges, and the town continues to provide free on-street parking.
The decision to reject the proposed bylaws to introduce on-street car parking for Westport was made at a special meeting of the West Mayo Municipal District in Castlebar yesterday (Monday) afternoon.
The decision ends weeks of debate about whether to introduce on-street car parking charges to the town in order to bring it in line with the other large towns in the county.
Instead of introducing on-street parking charges, the current situation whereby motorists enjoy one hour of free parking in the town centre will remain, while two-hour free parking will be introduced at The Quay.
The proposal to introduce on-street charges had been vehemently opposed by Westport councillors from the start. However, they were warned by senior council officials that the charges were needed to balance the 2018 budget. The councillors in the West Mayo Municipal District were also warned that if they stood in the way of the charges, they would not receive any of their General Municipal Allocation (GMA) funding, which councillors allocate to community organisations.

‘Scandalous’
The breakthrough came after councillors agreed to accept a reduced GMA figure in exchange for not having to introduce on-street car parking charges in Westport.
At the start of the meeting, the councillors were warned by senior council official Iain Douglas the full allocation of €450,000 of GMA funding could not be awarded without the introduction of the new Westport parking charge.
This threatened withdrawal of GMA funding for community organisations and groups was met with anger. “That is absolutely scandalous. ‘If you don’t do it my way you get nothing’ – you wouldn’t do that to a bold child,” commented Cllr Tereasa McGuire.
Achill councillor Paul McNamara pointed out that communities had been promised GMA funding for summer events since early in the year and they had yet to receive anything.
“I can only speak for my area but all those festivals have started; one of them was opened by the Minister [Michael Ring] last Saturday. It is very unfair to all these festivals that this money is held up over these debates.
“It mightn’t seem a lot of money but the €500 and the €1,000 they get from the seven councillors here is the difference between the festival going ahead or not. I think it would be a crying shame to find festivals are not being held because of a small amount of money. That would be sending out the wrong message. Whatever money we get should be divided immediately and keep the festivals and events going,” he said.
His comments were echoed by Cllr Michael Holmes who said he was due to meet a group following the meeting and did not know if money would be available for them.
Cllr Mulroy called for a rejection of the Council’s proposal, but Cllr Holmes would not commit until he knew if what the implications for GMA funding would be.
Achill councillor Paul McNamara asked how much they would receive, and Mr Douglas said the figure would be €230,000 for all the councillors in the Municipal District.
Cllr McNamara proposed that they accept the €230,000 without introducing the car-parking charges, and this was accepted by his fellow councillors.
Westport-based councillor Brendan Mulroy then proposed that they vote against the proposal to introduce car-parking charges and instead amend the by-law to have one-hour parking in the centre of the town and two-hour parking in the Quay area, and there would be no pay and display machines on the streets of Westport. Both motions were passed without any opposition, and the meeting was adjourned until today’s Municipal District AGM for further amendments.

Enforcement
The issue of enforcing the current parking laws was also raised. Padraic Walsh, the Head of the Municipal District had earlier informed the meeting the current by-laws were flawed and could not be legally enforced and needed to be changed. He said that on-street parking charges were needed, as they encourage people to use the town’s car parks instead of driving around the town looking for a free space and causing congestion.
Mr Walsh also said there were reservations about a proposal by Cllr McGuire to increase car parking charges in car parks in order to balance the budget and prevent on-street parking charges. He said such a move would make car parking in Westport more expensive than in Galway city and that this was not the image of the town that the council wanted to portray.
Cllr McGuire that they proposal could still be ‘tweaked’, adding that on-street parking would be introduced ‘over my dead body’.
Cllr Mulroy pointed out that the one-hour free parking would work if it was enforced.
After Cllr Mulroy’s proposal to reject on-street car parking was carried, Cllr Holmes adjourned the meeting for 24 hours to allow any amendments to the bylaws to be made. It is expected that the new bylaws will be go through the consultation process for the public to make submissions.