Cllr John Hogan
Tipperary County Council is to undergo a full review of parking charges throughout the county following a lengthy debate at a meeting of the local authority this week.
The matter was raised by Independent Councillor David Doran who said that parking charges are a real concern for those who have fears about the future of town centre business, especially when out of town centre retail parks and shopping centres are boasting free parking.
Cllr Doran referenced Thurles town as an example and said that the current fight to prevent the Post Office from relocating from Liberty Square to Thurles Shopping Centre has highlighted the need for a review of the parking charges. At a public meeting held in the town, parking charges were given as a reason for so many people turning away from town centre locations and opting instead to locate businesses and shops in shopping centres and retail parks.
“We have a situation in Thurles where we are about to invest significant sums of taxpayers money in Liberty Square and yet on the other hand a semi-State company is about to abandon the town centre for a place with greater footfall. We have parking charges in the town centre and it is a real problem we face now. We need to sit down and have a very real debate about these charges,” said Cllr Doran who asked to have the matter put on the agenda going forward so that something tangible can be done in relation to charges.
Cllr Seamus Hanafin however, said that dealing with parking charges is not something that should be done on an ad-hoc basis and called for meaningful discussions at Municipal District level.
Cllr Jim Ryan said that parking charges were introduced at a time when the councils wanted to raise funds to deal with particular infrastructural projects. They are now in place, he said, and he suggested that free parking should be available in town centres in order to revitalise the locations.
“We should write to the Department of Finance asking them to fund this because one way to help business people in rural towns and keep businesses alive would be to abolish parking charges in the town centres,” Cllr Ryan said.
However, Cllr John Hogan had another take on it. Each car owner pays car tax, tax on fuel to run the car, tax on car insurance etc. They pay enough tax for the privilege of having a car, he said, without having to pay for parking as well – another tax. But, he acknowledged that the local authority would have a €3million deficit to make up if they scrapped parking charges and suggested instead a 30 cent increase on property tax per week to make up the shortfall.
“In this way you wouldn't have to worry about getting a parking ticket at all. But, I would be concerned about people parking all day long too in the same spot – a time limit would have to be put on it,” he said.
Cllr Kieran Burke said that there has been rate equalistion in the five years since the councils were amalgamated – but not parking charge equalisation. A huge debate is to be had, he said, while Cllr Sean Ryan said the debate must be balanced and reasonable.
The council's Head of Finance, Mr Liam McCarthy, responded by saying that the charges cannot be interfered with in the current year anyway, as they have been budgeted for. He added that free parking has not solved any problems in town centres – in fact they have caused them as the turnover in parking spaces does not occur. This was a point reiterated by CEO Mr Joe MacGrath who also added that the final months of the current council would not be the time to make a decision of this magnitude, as it would tie the hands of the in-coming council.
“The issue of towns centres will not be resolved by parking charges alone and you would need to consider the impact of on-line trade for instance as well – that's a far bigger one. Parking charges have not increased in any location during the lifetime of this council and I would be very careful not to create a free-for-all by abolisihing charges completely. We will be investing almost €10million in towns centres in Thurles, Clonmel and Tipperary town in the coming years and that is significant. I would be very happy to have a discussion on parking charges in the context of the 2020 budget when the new council comes into place,” he said.