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Westport parking charges a hot topic on canvass trail


POSITIVE  Some shoppers are delighed that they now can have easy access to places like Westport Credit Union and Post Office, with plenty of parking spaces on the Mall.  Pic: Conor McKeown

All candidates state new regime is being debated on doorsteps

Michael Duffy and Áine Ryan

THE newly introduced car parking charges regime in Westport looks set to become one of the major issues on the doorsteps over the coming weeks in the West Mayo Municipal District.
The new system was introduced on Monday, April 8, and overall has had a mixed reaction so far with some businesses delighted with the fact that parking spaces have been freed up in the town centre, but others feeling the system is too expensive for workers in the town centre.
Independent councillor, Christy Hyland, who voted for the introduction of the system, said everyone was still getting used to the new regime, but many business people had told him it was clear to see that traffic was moving around the town and customers were able to access businesses in the town centre more quickly and easily.
“Like any new system, it will take time to bed down. A lot of businesses are happy with the fact that people are no longer parking up their cars in the town centre and leaving it there for the day, others are still reserving judgment. But at the end of the day, we all knew the system as it was could not continue, and the newly elected councillors will try and deal with the problems that have, and will arise,” said Cllr Hyland.

Bring back free parking
However, Fianna Fáil councillor Brendan Mulroy, who had always been an advocate of the continuation of free parking in Westport, has said that unless people like him stand up to be counted, parking charges will also be rolled out in towns like Newport, Mulranny and Achill in the not too distant future.
“Let’s face it, workers in Westport are being discriminated against by the high parking charges introduced in the town. It is a sad day when you have to pay to park your car when you are going to work in the town and pay your taxes.  Workers contribute hugely to the town and there is a bad taste in people’s mouths when you have to feed the state coffers before you start your day’s work. There should be an acknowledgement by the county council of the contribution that working people make to Westport and these people should not be hit in their pockets.”
Cllr Mulroy said if he is re-elected he he will be pushing hard for the issue of free parking in Westport to be revisited.

Lower cost parking for workers
Independent candidate John O’Malley told The Mayo News that parking charges of €350 per year for people working in Westport was ‘absolutely outrageous’.
“A lot of these people are paid the minimum wage, and find it hard to make ends meet. They already have to pay their motor tax, NCT charge and insurance cost and now have the added cost of €350 for parking.
“Mayo County Council bought the old convent and grounds around it for something in the region of €4 million some years back and have yet to do something with it. I am calling on the council to offer part of the field in the grounds of the convent to provide parking for workers in Westport. The amount of parking spaces needed could easily be discussed with business owners around the town.”
Mr O’Malley said it was nonsence that drivers had to buy parking tickets in shops around the town.
“When people visit the town, they will find it difficult to know where to buy the ticket and what colour to buy. A much simpler method would be to just put up parking meters, like every other town that has parking charges, instead of making things more complicated than needs be.”
John O’Malley also reminded his supporters that he will hold the last rally of his campaign in The Local Bar on Castlebar Street this Saturday night, May 4 at 10pm.

‘Rollout has been shambolic’
Fine Gael election candidate Peter Flynn told The Mayo News that while he accepted the need for a new parking regime, ‘the decision-making and execution around the revised parking rollout has been shambolic’.    
“The vast majority of people including myself agree that some sort of changes were required as it just wasn’t acceptable for people to park all day outside businesses and residences.
“Westport is a relatively small town and having different zoning was the first bad decision, having scratch cards instead of meters as the key methodology to pay just compounded the confusion around these zones.”
The local authority’s failure to include a ‘grace period’ for the Quay, thus discriminating against business owners there, he said, was unacceptable, as was the fact that parking meters have been installed in the Quay, and not in other areas of the town.
“The cost to employees and business owners is prohibitive and to expect people on low incomes to pay €420 (€35 per month) is criminal. In other towns where business owners pay their rates on time they get a free annual pass and employees are provided with parking options which allow them to park outside the town core at nominal rates,” he said.

Councillors views differ on whether monies brought in by Mayo County Council from Westport’s car parking charges will be used specifically on important projects in the town.