Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has approved free off street parking on Saturdays in December to help flood-hit businesses.
But it has come a week late following a party leaders’ decision on December 6 to suspend car parking charges on dates including December, 9, 16 and 23.
The strategy, policy and resources committee has now passed the recommendation to boost the Christmas shopping trade across the district at an estimated loss of income of £7,500 from the 11 council controlled facilities.
Council deputy chairperson, Gareth Sharvin (SDLP) said:”If you talk to local businesses they are highlighting the challenges of footfall.
“The no car parking charges is great, and perhaps it could have gone further, but we didn’t, but it will certainly help to bring more footfall into the town.
“We need to be saying as a council, that we are open for business, promoting that message to get people to come into our district to spend.”
Alliance rep, Cadogan Enright added: “I do note that when visiting Portadown and Lisburn recently that they do habitually have the Christmas practice on Saturdays of not charging for parking in town, which seems to apparently do very well for the Christmas trade.
“I suspect there is a consensus of all councillors that this could be used more widely across the district in the run up to Christmas.”
The committee report states that due to short notice from the party leaders’ decision, it was “not possible” to erect signage in advance of December 9, though a social media broadcast was provided.
It further stated that free carparking signage is due to be in place in advance of this Saturday (Dec 16).
The report read: “This scheme will clearly not solve the substantial problems being encountered by local businesses following extreme weather event.
“The gesture will have a limited bounded impact and may be of benefit to some participants more than others.”
It is not known at this time if any motorists unduly paid tariffs last Saturday (Dec 9) when the free off street parking took effect.
Downpatrick Sinn Fein Councillor Oonagh Hanlon has raised her own concerns of the future roll out of an annual carparking payment relief.
She said: “It is interesting to note whether this will work going forward, because having free car parking can bring its own challenges and it does open up a wider debate on equality across the district on free carparking, but we are not going there tonight.
“It is a good new story and I would like to thank officials for taking onboard the feedback especially from the Downpatrick councillors who really are trying to champion the increase of footfall into the town.”