Is this the final nail in the coffin?

THE implementation of car parking charges in Banbridge could be the final nail in the coffin for Banbridge town centre.

That’s the view of the local chamber’s vice-president one week after charges were introduced. The past seven days have seen the three affected car parks virtually emptied as motorists either try to find free spaces elsewhere in the town, or desert Banbridge altogether.

Charges of between 30p and 40p per hour came into effect at Downshire Place North, Townsend Street and Bridge Street East car parks last week.

Despite a meeting some time ago with the Roads Minister Danny Kennedy, where traders pleaded for the charges to be dropped, Chamber vice-president Neil Shaw said the initial signs of the scheme are negative, and can only get worse.

“While it is early days at this stage I think it’s fair to say these charges are going to reduce the people coming into town on a Saturday for a wander round,” he said.

“Instead of people coming and staying for a few hours we will have people coming in and rushing around to get just what they need and straight back out again.

“Or they will go somewhere that offers free parking all day. Shops are definitely going to feel it.”

In bringing in the charges, the Minister cited turnover and budget restrictions as two of the main reasons for doing so.

“The introduction of these car park tariffs will encourage turnover of car parking spaces which will help to improve traffic management and promote the commercial and tourist vitality of our towns,” a press release from the department said in April.

“This set of tariff rises is part of the four-year budget plan for annual increases which will contribute towards the cost of parking operations.”

But, as was strongly expressed in the meeting with the Minister, Mr Shaw said the idea that it could create increased turnover has already been proven wrong.

“From what I have seen so far there certainly hasn’t been an increased turnover, the car parks have almost emptied. At an earlier meeting I said to the minister that we were all working on reduced budgets and asked what his department had done to make savings - he couldn’t tell me.”

Mr Shaw said the future does not look bright as the charges take their toll.

“Yet again a decision has been made that affects the people on the ground, the grass roots businesses. It could be the final nail in the coffin for some businesses. I would hope Banbridge’s history and the range of independent shops we have here can help the town survive.”