Council to earn €7m from parking income
Traders in uproar as fees and policing drive away shoppers
THE county council in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin -- where dozens of shops have closed and retail rents have collapsed by up to 60 per cent -- is set to rake in around €7m in parking fees and fines this year, according to figures seen by the Sunday Independent.
During the first seven months of the year, residents, shoppers and traders paid €3,588,054 for parking and fines imposed by the Germany-based parking company, ACPOA.
The parking income from Dun Laoghaire is helping support salary levels in the council where 13 employees are earning more than €90,000; 35 earn between €80,000 and €90,000; and 51 between €70,000 and €80,000, according to figures released this summer. Another 536 earn between €40,000 and €70,000.
Also, 225 staff have free parking in either council-owned car parks or in spaces in private car parks where developers entered into deals with the council.
While traders say the parking regime is strangling the town centre, UK-based consultants hired by the council this year say that the issue is a "scapegoat" for poor retail performance and that the council's parking policy is "neither a competitive advantage or disadvantage".
But last week, traders who spoke to the Sunday Independent all said that parking -- and high rates -- were the primary causes of the closure of many long-established businesses and for declining trade.
Rental levels have fallen "closer to 60 per cent than 50 per cent", according to local letting agent, Robert Downey, of Dooley Auctioneers.
"The parking policy is totally counter-productive. Rates are a big issue. Where in the good times you might have had a rental of say €30,000 and rates of €4,000 or €5,000 you now have rentals of €8,000 or €10,000 but the rates have remained the same or even risen," he said.
Paul Croft, who runs 'Get Fresh', says that since opening its new store in George's Street last March he has paid over €600 in fines for parking his van in the loading bay outside the shop. A few minutes after he spoke to the Sunday Independent last Thursday a warden put another €40 parking ticket on the van for allegedly being over the 15-minute limit.
"They see the van is open and we're unloading and we're in the shop but they never come in and ask us to move. They could show a bit of leniency. Retail is on its knees in Dun Laoghaire. I had a woman customer who bought €40 worth and when she went outside she had a €40 ticket."
Matthew Connolly, whose family has been in the shoe business in Dun Laoghaire for 60 years, said that with stagnant population growth and the opening of the Dundrum shopping centre the town has been in decline for years. But, he said, the decline has "increased dramatically" since the imposition of the strict parking regime in the last three years.
"Retailers are struggling and long-established stores are closing but they [the Council] don't seem to understand the correlation. It is the customers who are leaving, the customers are being fleeced. They [the Council] are prepared to spend huge money on reports about "rejuvenation" rather than face the basic facts."
The London-based consultants hired by the council said in their report: "Dun Laoghaire has a history of using 'scapegoats' such as parking, town architecture and social issues as an excuse for poor retail. Face the reality that it has a very poor retail offer, which is why it performs so badly.
"Parking is neither a competitive advantage or disadvantage. It needs to be controlled from a PR perspective, as much as a practical one -- although increased footfall will require increased parking with more imaginative pricing and more sympathetic policing."