BALLINROBE is playing catch-up at the moment. Over the past number of years the catchment area has grown beyond all predictions and, consequently, the number of cars passing through has reached an incredible figure. Meanwhile, however, the infrastructure has largely stood still.The long-term solution, of course, is a by-pass, but for now short-term remedies are imperative. One is expected to commence in the coming weeks.If you wandered through the town in the past few weeks, you will have been greeted by an unfamiliar site: parking meters dotting the streetscape. A new age - pay and display - has come, and with it hope and scepticism in equal measure, among traders and consumers alike. Once in operation, the cost of parking on the streets of Ballinrobe will be 60 cent per hour with a minimum cost of 30 cent. Parking in the car parks such as the new car park in the Christian Brothers School grounds and the proposed car park in Abbey Street will be 30 cent per hour.South Mayo Fine Gael county councillor Patsy O’Brien believes Ballinrobe is developing at a rapid pace and the new system will be crucial to the free flow of traffic in the town that at times can be one of the most gridlocked in Mayo. “The most important issue for Ballinrobe is to free up the traffic flow in the town. The car parks in Abbey Street and the CBS, along with paid parking, will help do this. Within the next year or so there will be a jump form 10,000 to 14,000 people living within 20 minutes of the town and that has to be catered for,” he told The Mayo News this week.The change is going to be a dramatic one. The entire town centre will switch from free parking to paid parking during working hours, with no planned exceptions. Residents will receive major discounts and the monthly tickets for the long-term car parks are expected to be priced at €20.
While most feel such a concept is an inevitable change in a society where the number of cars continues to grow on par with anywhere in Europe, some believe the change will have a negative effect on consumers and traders - unless some leeway is granted. Cornmarket-based pharmacist Joanne Hynes is one trader who is concerned.
“Paid parking is certainly the way we have to go, it is a fact of life with the number of cars on the road today. However, I feel it will be vital that each street is granted a number of ten to 15-minute free spaces to facilitate convenience shopping,” she said.
Many people feel that the hassle of finding change, finding a machine and then going back to the car to display a ticket, just so you can run into a shop to buy one item, will deter consumers from coming into town.
“The beauty of a small town is convenience,” continued Joanne. “You don’t have to go to Galway, park your car and pay for it and then walk half a mile into the city. Instead you can nip into town, get what you need and nip out. If you lose that aspect of shopping, you lose a big advantage.”
Among some there is a belief that the move is far too radical and has been introduced with little consideration for consumers or traders. Publican John O’Hare is one businessman who is as yet unconvinced of its merits.
“Ballinrobe is a glorified village; paid parking makes no sense in such an environment. They say it is 30 cent to start off with but who knows what will happen to the cost over a period of time. The views of traders and consumers have been ignored in this process,” he contends.
Luke Carney owns a restaurant on Abbey Street, and while he accepts the idea, he has some concerns about the awareness among shoppers of off-street parking.
“I think paid parking was inevitable. It will free up the flow of traffic in the town. Cars double parking at bus stops and on yellow lines on main street cause major delays and eradicating that can only be good. But I do believe better sign-posting for off-street parking is needed.”
Cllr O’Brien acknowledges the concerns of consumers and traders alike, but remains adamant that such a development is the only way forward for a town like Ballinrobe.
“One of the key issues is the free flow of traffic in the town. The N84 runs right through Ballinrobe with many roads joining it. The traffic problems in the town can be a nightmare, and something has to be done.”
O’Brien is well aware of the fear that business within the town may suffer, specifically the convenience trade such as newsagents, chemists, grocery shops, fast food restaurants and butchers.
“It is crucial that once in place there is a review of the system within a couple of months where issues can be raised. However, it is a Catch 22 situation and there is no easy solution.”
A time scale on the introduction of the new system remains unclear. The machines are in place but there is work to be done. The development of the Abbey Street car park will play a key role in such a time scale.
“It is imperative that the Abbey Street car park be in place at the same time as paid parking begins. Giving people the option of well-advertised off-street parking at either end of the town is vital to the success of such a scheme,” he concluded.
The traffic problem in Ballinrobe has been well-aired in recent years, and now a solution has been put forward. Only time will be the judge of its effectiveness.