Car Parks

Oral Answers to Questions — Regional Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 21st April 2015.

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Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 21st April 2015

4. Mr Milne asked the Minister for Regional Development, following the handover of car parks from his Department to the new local councils, what provision has been made to address councils' concerns regarding the condition and structural integrity of these car parks. (AQO 7992/11-15)

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

My Department was not given any specific funding by the Department of Finance and Personnel to resurface or upgrade car parks in advance of their transfer to the new councils, and that remains the case. From a condition and structural integrity point of view, the car parks that transferred were deemed fit for purpose. They were inspected regularly and were in daily use up to the point of transfer. Any defects identified in the run-up to the 1 April 2015 handover were prioritised and repaired as the Department's resources permitted.

Following receipt of an additional allocation for routine maintenance in January monitoring, my Department did undertake some minor works such as the renewal of white-lining in car parks where that was deemed necessary for enforcement purposes prior to the handover to the councils. In addition, engineers carried out a special public liability inspection of the car parks and completed any work identified.

The Member will be aware that the new councils will have received budget transfers from DFP for the car parks, which included an element of funding for maintenance. His own Mid Ulster District Council took possession of 23 car parks with a net book valuation of £2·5 million, which are expected to make a profit of some £216,000. Any future maintenance of the car parks that have transferred is now the responsibility of the respective councils.

Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra a thug sé. I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. How many councils accepted or declined the car park handover, or were even undecided?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. All councils accepted the transfer. They also accepted that the arrangements for enforcement will continue until at least next year, when the current contract operated by the Department expires. There are policy aspects, however. I think that two councils opted not to continue to provide the special rate of five hours' parking for £1, which has been so successful in other places. That is a matter entirely for those councils.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

The Minister will be aware of the particular skills that were deployed by personnel in car parking under the prior arrangement. Is he aware of councils having requested similar training arrangements to ensure that that is replicated in the new system as the councils take control?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. Wherever the Department can assist by using its experience to benefit the new operators, we will continue to do that. As I said in my earlier answer, all councils agreed to use the enforcement officials and personnel in that method at least until the contract runs out next year. We stand open to assist wherever we can, given that the responsibility ultimately now lies with the new councils.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

The Minister will know that the vast majority of the car parks came from the councils after the last reorganisation. Minister, can you explain why the Department of Finance and Personnel top-sliced the income surplus?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary question. I can say that DFP did not withhold any income, but it did offset the surplus from car parking against the budgets for other functions that were transferring. DFP, as the funding Department for central and local government, decided on how the transfer of budgets was to be handled. It did not rest with my Department.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Will the Minister agree that, in some of these instances, the new councils in effect bought a pig in a poke when the powers were transferred, in so far as, undoubtedly, there will be additional costs to them? Indeed, can the Minister advise us on what compensatory measures were provided to them for the enhancement of those car parking facilities in the amounts of money that were provided to them?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary question. I do not subscribe to his "pig in a poke" comment. Earlier, I quoted figures in respect of Mid Ulster Council, where 23, I think, car parks were transferred, with potential income of £200,000. I think that that is not to be sneezed at or sneered at. I trust local government to look after and to continue to maintain these assets, and I think that it will do that. I do not envisage the problems that perhaps the Member does. Work was carried out as necessary to various car parks just before transfer took place, but I have to say that, based on the record of claims against the Department for defective surfaces, I am satisfied that car parks were transferred in more-than-acceptable condition.