Sunday 27 May 2018

Cork puts the brakes on controversial city centre car ban amid complaints

WALKING AWAY: St Patrick’s Street in Cork is reportedly suffering from low footfall since the council restricted access for cars. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/ Provision
WALKING AWAY: St Patrick’s Street in Cork is reportedly suffering from low footfall since the council restricted access for cars. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/ Provision
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

CORK has put the brakes on its controversial city centre car ban introduced at Easter.

There was overwhelming support amongst councillors at a special City Hall meeting tonight for the campaign by Cork traders for the immediate suspension of the ban amid claims it had devastated trade.

Some traders claim business and shopper footfall around the city centre was down by 50pc since the afternoon car ban was introduced.

In an embarrassing u-turn, the ban on cars using St Patrick's Street will now be suspended until August.

The suspension of the ban followed a unanimous council vote.

It will be reviewed on August 9 next.

The council will also still proceed with a package of parking and marketing initiatives aimed at boosting city centre trade.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the response to public opinion was local democracy working.

"I think it is a good thing - the first thing I'd like to say is that the city council, councillors and traders in the city actually all want the same thing - they want a vibrant city centre," he said.

"They want people walking around with their families shopping, eating and enjoying themselves the city centre."

"There is a commercial element to that but also building a strong city centre atmosphere," he said.

City Hall has also re-stated its support for the City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS) which is aimed at improving bus reliability and journey times.

Cork has been earmarked for a €200m upgrade of its public transport network which is overwhelmingly dependent on bus services.

Since 2014, the numbers using bus services around Cork city have soared by almost 25pc.

Cork City Council called the special meeting last night after traders had threatened to discuss a commercial rates protest over the impact the car ban had on city centre trade.

More than 200 traders met in a Cork hotel on Wednesday evening and warned they cannot sustain three months of lower footfall and

 ost sales before the controversial city centre car ban was revised.

Some operators claimed they are down almost 50pc in both trade and footfall since the ban was introduced at Easter.

Cork City Council imposed the ban on cars using the city's main thoroughfare three weeks ago.

It bans all cars from St Patrick's Street between 3pm and 6.30pm daily though buses and emergency vehicles can still use Cork's main street.

Council chiefs, stung by criticism from traders, vowed to review the ban if necessary in July.

However, angry traders warned they cannot sustain three months of lower footfall and reduced sales.

English Market spiced beef trader, Tom Durcan, warned that the aftermath of the traffic ban for city centre business owners has been "a total disaster."

"No business can sustain a decline in footfall and trade of this magnitude," he said.

Idaho Cafe operator, Richard Jacob, said it was vital that City Hall listen carefully to traders about the impact on their businesses.

He said compromises from City Hall in the form of parking and marketing supports were welcome but, if trade was being damaged by the ban, city authorities had to take action.

Councillor Ken O'Flynn said council chiefs needed to accept, given the mounting evidence, that the afternoon car ban on St Patrick's Street might have been a mistake.

"We need people to be big enough to put their hands up and admit they might have got it wrong," he said.

City Hall had moved in a desperate bid to defuse the row following talks with traders and bodies including the Cork Business Association (CBA).

Cork City Council chief executive Ann Doherty unveiled a range of new parking incentives aimed at making it more attractive for people to shop in the city centre.

These ranged from free use of 'park and ride' facilities during specific times and special discounted parking rates at council-owned city centre car parks - all aimed at getting people into the city centre.

She had urged traders to give the new system three months before making a final judgement.

Mr Jacob said everyone in Cork had the same goals.

"We all want the same thing which is a vibrant and busy Cork city centre where people like to shop, socialise and enjoy the unique atmosphere."

But Tom Murphy of Murphy's Menswear warned that one day last week the footfall at their St Patrick Street store was down by more than 50pc compared to the previous week last year. Trade was down by around 25pc or more.

"I haven't ever seen anything like it," he said.

"I live in Ballinhassig and the commute into town can sometimes take a long time due to traffic. But I drove in one day without a single hold-up. Some people might say that is a good thing but what worries me is whether the car ban is now beginning to have a knock-on effect on the morning trade as well."

The famous clothes shop, during one day last week, had just two customers walk in the front door during three hours of the car ban.

"There is absolutely no doubt but that some people have decided not to come into the city centre to do their shopping - that is what is worrying."

Cork's oldest Chinese restaurant is Tung Sing which boasts a dominant position on St Patrick Street.

Frank Lee, who employs almost 30 staff at Tung Sing, warned that some afternoons in the city centre following the car ban being introduced resembled the eerie emptiness which preceded Storm Emma.

"It makes no sense - I don't think traffic was ever a problem on the street over recent years," he said.

"My worry is that the city could become a ghost town."

"It is very difficult to say 'wait and see' when your turnover is falling," he said.

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