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On-street Parking

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 12:00 pm, 7th November 2016

The first item on our Order Paper today is a motion on a review of on-street parking. The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the amendment and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I beg to move

That this Assembly believes that the mandatory £90 car parking fine should be reduced significantly; further believes that greater flexibility needs to be introduced to encourage trade across Northern Ireland by allowing for the first 30 minutes of parking to be free of charge across our towns and cities, and for on-street parking time limits to be extended in rural towns and villages; and calls upon the Minister for Infrastructure to review urgently the contract for on-street parking.

Having met traders across this city and, in particular, those in the city centre, I am concerned about car parking in the city centre. In particular, I am concerned about parking in car parks and about what my party and I see as punitive fines for members of the public who return late to their parking space. My mailbag has received considerable correspondence about the issue, as, I am sure, have those of Members across the Chamber. I think that the fine of £90, if someone is late, is too much.

I think that the fine needs to be reviewed, and I welcome the fact that the Minister is here in his place. Even if that fine is paid within a fortnight, it is still £45. Someone being made to pay £45 for being late to their car parking space is, frankly, far too much.

We need to strike a balance that is right between making sure that people want to come to our city and town centres to shop, spend money and generate wealth there and those who want to see greater usage of park-and-ride developments. I very much welcome that as a way forward. We have a number of park-and-ride facilities around the Belfast basin for bringing people into the city centre. As Members will know, we do have issues in that Northern Ireland has a largely rural population, with people tending to travel by car. Whilst there has been great progress with bus and rail transportation, particularly with Ulsterbus, we do not have the services that perhaps are needed to encourage people to come into our city and town centres. I should state clearly that I am speaking as a Member of the House and not as the Chair of the Infrastructure Committee, but, only a few weeks ago, we at the Committee listened to some arguments that were put forward by people who live in rural Fermanagh about the disconnectivity that there is of people who live in rural areas, even affecting getting in for a doctor's appointment never mind shopping or whatever in Enniskillen as the county town.

The pressures that our businesses currently face are pressures that are increasing. You only have to look at the arterial routes in the city centre of Belfast to know that those pressures are real. You see that through the number of shops that are closed. I do think that this Chamber needs to be much more responsive and listen to the views of traders.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. The motion talks about fines. Will the Member agree, from listening to shoppers, that the "redcoats", as they are often known, seem to be overzealous in how they do their jobs? We hear of people being fined for parking a few inches outside of the limits of a box. It seems to be more that they get an enjoyment out of punishing people than trying to work with people to bring them into our towns and villages.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Member for his intervention. Indeed, only last week, I witnessed a number of what the Member calls "redcoats" in South Belfast when I visited Sandy Row and saw the pressures there. It is the same in my constituency of North Belfast. I do think that we have to set guidelines, and those guidelines have to be adhered to. We do have to have laws that are implemented, and the House should be supporting those laws. We are calling for the Minister for Infrastructure to review the laws that are currently set out.

Given the other pressures that there are in our city and town centres from many aspects facing the business community, car parking is a key issue.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

On the back of the question that was asked by your colleague, I understand what he is saying. However, especially in the likes of Belfast, which is nearly all that we can speak about, an invasion takes place every day. People are crying out for redcoats to go in to help to deal with that.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Member for his intervention. The Member and I served on Belfast City Council at the same time, and he will know from his time there that small communities that abut the city centre, like Sandy Row, lower Falls, Brown Square and the Markets, are under pressure when people come seeking free parking there and not having to face any fee at all. Sometimes, people, many of whom live in settled communities like those and who are older members of the community, simply cannot get their car near their own door. Going back, there were a number of pressures that were recognised by the then Department for Regional Development when its Minister was Minister Murphy. However, those solutions were not solutions either because they gave people permits to park outside their own door and they could not be given certainty that they could park outside their own door. That is why the review is timely.

Look at the city centres. Along with my colleague Mr Stalford, I met some Belfast city centre traders only a few weeks ago and heard about the pressures that they are under. Members from those parties on Belfast City Council that took the recent decision can explain the reasoning behind it, but the town and city centres that surround Belfast will be rubbing their hands at it. They are offsetting the costs of parking and allowing people freer access to their town or city centre to help boost their economy in the run-up to Christmas. I have seen stuff on Facebook recently where people who, for example, represent Lisburn are making the point, "Come to Lisburn, and you will get free parking". The decision by Belfast City Council seems to be wrong-faced, but, as I said, the parties who made it can explain the reasoning behind it.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I thank Mr Humphrey for giving way. The Member referred to the situation with the redcoats on Sandy Row. The actual problem is that the redcoats do not go into the likes of the housing estate off Sandy Row and instead spend all their time on the arterial route. We see that on the Lisburn Road as well. The consequence of their focusing on arterial routes is that people who want to stop there and spend their money in the shops are discouraged from so doing.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Member for that. If Members are honest, they will say that that is something that they have heard across the city. As Mr McCann said, I can speak only for this city and the city centre of Belfast.

The other thing that Members need to bear in mind is that, because we are a rural economy, many people travel to our town and city centres in cars from rural parts of Northern Ireland. I did a wee tour on Saturday morning and went over to Boucher. I saw that, in and around Boucher Crescent where there is free parking, the car parks were completely full and the roads into those car parks were completely full. The number of cars there from the Republic of Ireland was hugely noticeable. We know the benefits that border towns such as Enniskillen, Newry and Londonderry have been receiving because of the exchange rate between the pound and the euro at this time. There was a piece on the news only last week about the benefits to the Newry economy in particular. Are we going to discourage those people who are travelling in their cars to our town and city centres by having this £90 parking fine?

There should be some flexibility for people who are a few minutes late, but, if people are significantly late and taking up a parking space that others could be using, yes, they should be fined. I would argue against myself if I did not make that point. However, £90 is just too much. For a working person with a young family, £90 is too much. We do not know the circumstances in which those people can be placed. There should be flexibility around timing, the amount of the fine and people not being able to park inside the box. We have all arrived to park in a space and found a car parked outside the box and into your space. We know how annoying and difficult it is when you cannot get a space anywhere else and are trying to navigate into a tight spot. There needs to be flexibility around those things.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

The motion calls for a review but goes on to predetermine the outcome of any review. The Minister has said that he is up for reviewing it. We should therefore support the amendment. We will then get a review, and we can all take part in the review process.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I ask the Member to conclude his remarks.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I am not sure that the motion does have a predetermined outcome. We are asking the Minister to show some flexibility around the issues that I have set out. I very much welcome the tone of the debate so far —

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

— and took great pleasure in proposing the motion.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

I beg to move the following amendment

Leave out all after "Assembly" and insert "recognises the vital importance of adequate and affordable on-street parking for the growth and development of our town centres; notes the need for the Minister for Infrastructure to review the provisions for on-street parking; calls on the Minister for Infrastructure to carry out an investigation into the reduction of mandatory car parking fines; and further calls on the Minister for Infrastructure to look at options to review on-street car parking fees and times.".

I will speak in support of the amendment and against the motion. Ba mhaith liom cúpla rud a rá faoin rún. I will speak first on a number of issues to do with the motion. Overall, I think that it is populist in nature. We all know — indeed, I have found out to my own cost on a number of occasions — that, if you pay the initial car-parking fine within 14 days, it is not £90 but £45. The Member who spoke previously said that himself.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP 12:15 pm, 7th November 2016

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I accept that, if it is paid within two weeks, the fine is £45, but I have had a number elderly people come to my office in a state of distress about these issues. Also, when you have a working-class family or a single-parent family who are under pressure, £45 is also a huge amount of money for them to find in the run-up to Christmas.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

I thank the Member. I understand what he is saying, because our constituency office has similar types of people coming in. I was on the Regional Development Committee when the measure was brought in, and one of the things that we argued at the time was that it should not be a revenue-raising mechanism. The £45 offer is there to encourage people to pay promptly. I have been caught once or twice in that situation.

The second issue is allowing the first 30 minutes of parking to be free across our towns and cities, as outlined in the motion. That would be totally unmanageable, and it is unrealistic. It would need many more redcoats or enforcement agencies to enforce.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I am listening to the Member saying that it would be unworkable. Maybe you are going to elaborate on how it would be unworkable, given that all we are asking for is a review of the fines. It is going to take the same number of redcoats; all we are suggesting is that fine should be less.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a number of occasions this morning, DUP Members have said that all they are looking for is a review. The DUP motion does not ask for a review; the amendment might ask for a review, but the motion asks for the fine to be reduced.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I note the remarks of the Minister.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

I accept and welcome the —

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am thankful to the Minister for his intervention and am happy to provide some clarification. I made it clear that we wanted, as part of the review, the fine to be looked at. So, I do not see any contradiction between my position and that of the Minister, quite frankly.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

That is not a point of order, again.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

As the Minister outlined, all those issues can be taken into account in the review.

As I said earlier, it would take many more traffic wardens to enforce the initial 30 minutes. You can imagine traffic wardens running back and forth to see whether the 30 minutes had run out. Again, how much would that cost? That would have practical issues around enforcement.

The aim of parking enforcement is to reduce the number of vehicles that are illegally parked. There are limited numbers of spaces in our towns and cities, as I know from Enniskillen. The issue is the effective use and management of the spaces. There is a need to tackle congestion and, at the same time, have affordable town-centre parking. In Enniskillen, it is £1 for five hours' parking; some do not agree with that, but the traders mostly accept it. I have spoken to traders in Enniskillen, where a new bypass is planned. A small number have said that the bypass would lose them business, but the majority argue that easing the traffic benefits the economy. If the new bypass gets the go-ahead, the through traffic in Enniskillen will be taken out of the town, easing congestion for those travelling there for shopping and trading.

The increase in fines for penalty charge notices (PCNs) in 2012 has worked in that the number of illegally parked cars is reducing. As I said earlier, it would be virtually impossible to manage having the first 30 minutes of parking free, which is what the motion proposes. Rural towns and villages operate one- to two-hour waiting times. How long do people want? The proposer of the motion spoke about people going to doctor appointments, and I know that people go into towns to get a haircut or whatever, but the current contract does not prevent any changes to waiting time and fines.

Our amendment recommends that a review takes place, as the Minister said. However, any review will need to be based on evidence and focus on reforms that work in the interests of managing limited on-street spaces effectively, improving the flow of traffic and enhancing the towns and cities that we live in.

Sinn Féin is calling for a review, and all the issues which the sponsors of the motion have outlined, and will outline, can be taken in that review. I think that this is a sensible way forward for the issue and I ask the House to support the amendment.

Photo of Jennifer Palmer Jennifer Palmer UUP

There is some merit in the motion and in the amendment. All of us should be seeking to ensure smooth traffic flow in our towns and cities and that people can access parking spaces so that they can do business. It is essential that we support local traders and ensure that our town centres remain vibrant. However, we have to strike a balance because every car in a parking space means that that is one parking space that cannot be used by another motorist or shopper. It is important that we have proper regulation to ensure turnover and not have a large number of motorists driving around town centres searching for parking spaces because people are not moving from them.

I have a number of points to make. I ask the proposers of the motion to state what would be a more appropriate figure than £90. In any case, we should point out that, whilst the charge is indeed £90, if payment is received within 14 days of receiving a penalty charge notice, or within 15 days by letter, a 50% discount applies. You have to pay £45. That has been outlined in the debate thus far. The discount is offered to ensure prompt payment, and the 50% reduction seems to me to be exactly what the —

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I steered clear of setting out a figure to the House even though invited to do so by Mr McCann. We do not want to predetermine the outcome. In calling for a review, we want the Minister to have exactly that flexibility, but I think that a figure of £30, reduced to £15 if paid within the fortnight, would be sensible.

Photo of Jennifer Palmer Jennifer Palmer UUP

I am happy to take that on board.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Jennifer Palmer Jennifer Palmer UUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The 50% discount is offered to ensure prompt payment, and it seems to me to be exactly what the proposers of the motion are calling for in terms of the charge being reduced significantly.

For some reason, this appears to be a DUP acting-alone motion, away from its coalition partners who control the Department responsible. One might reasonably have expected the DUP to run the motion past Sinn Féin before tabling it. Instead, we have a Sinn Féin amendment before us, which also takes a sensible approach. As you would say, it is probably not joined-up government.

Obviously, it would be great if we could free up parking everywhere, 24 hours a day. Nobody likes to pay for parking but, by the same token, people also want to access parking at locations convenient to where they want to shop or do business.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

The Member talks about freeing up parking and how people want parking spaces that are convenient. Nothing in our motion suggests that we are going to prevent that. All the motion indicates is that the punitive fine of £90 should be reduced because it is too expensive, particularly in rural villages. This is supported by the traders in our small towns, the people who depend on motorists stopping in those spaces and paying those fines. Traders are supporting us in wanting to reduce the cost for people to park on the street.

Photo of Jennifer Palmer Jennifer Palmer UUP

Thank you. It leads us to look for a comprehensive set of measures, which could include looking at reducing business rates in small towns and villages. We are certainly open to the review of parking charges and measures as to how we can support town centres. There is certainly merit in exploring the impact which a comprehensive strategy would have. However, that is wider than what the motion before us calls for. We should also remember that most of the car parks were transferred to local government and are now run by councils, so they would obviously have to be consulted for their views of any overhaul. Indeed, devolving parking to councils is something that must be considered seriously.

With regard to the call for on-street parking time limits to be extended in rural towns and villages, as I have already stated, nobody likes to pay for parking but, by the same token, people want to be able to access parking at locations where they want to do business. Extending time limits could cause congestion, causing greater inconvenience for people who want to park but are unable to find a space. We must be aware of the law of unintended consequences.

Finally, we agree with the call on the Minister for Infrastructure to review urgently the contract for on-street parking, which is also reflected in the amendment.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am delighted to speak on the motion, not only as the SDLP spokesperson for infrastructure but as someone who, like many in the House I suppose, has been at the tail end of the odd fine now and again. I almost feel that I own a part of the tarmac in the car park outside my office in Strabane.

As we approach the busy Christmas period, this is a debate that we should be having. It is a very important one and is an issue that causes considerable frustration to many throughout our constituencies. It impacts heavily on those who are less financially well off, particularly the elderly, as Mr Humphrey mentioned, and single parents — people who are struggling to keep their heads above water or, in what will be a very cold winter, put fuel in their oil tanks at home. The debate is an important one, and I am glad that it has been brought to the House.

On-street parking is vital for many of our towns and villages in managing the flow of traffic effectively and supporting the local economy by providing parking access to our town centres. It is vital that this balance is struck proportionately and that people are not penalised for wanting to shop in town centres that are facing considerable challenges in trying to keep their heads above water in a very difficult economic climate, particularly in my own town.

I must remind the Chamber that, in 2012, fines were increased from £60 to £90 and that the then Regional Development Committee Chair moved a motion to block that change. Ironically, that Chair followed his party and voted against this amendment, yet here we are today with the DUP spinning busily around the proverbial roundabout proposing this motion, which it could have prevented four years ago. It is all very well saying that we are very concerned now, but it is four years too late when many people have been facing considerable stress in relation to what is a £90 fine.

Make no mistake about it: it is a £90 fine, because although there is a 14-day window, and that is the issue, many people who are paid monthly and are struggling cannot afford to pay that fine within two weeks. No one in the House will disagree with that. I ask the Minister to consider that when he reviews these circumstances.

Turning to the motion, I am not wholly against on-street parking restrictions because they are vital for the proper flow of traffic through cities and town centres, particularly in Belfast where there is considerable congestion. Each and every area has its own circumstances and, as the Member for Fermanagh said, different councils have taken different approaches. For instance, in the immediate aftermath of the reforms, Derry and Strabane District Council took away the five-hour car parking slot for £1. Omagh District Council kept it, but, having spoken to traders in Omagh, I know that it has caused them considerable difficulties with turnover and flow. There are considerable concerns in that regard.

I am concerned that fines are not handed out in a fair and proportionate way. We have all witnessed to some degree, redcoats, as they have been called in the House, handing out tickets for the slightest mistake. That causes concern for people, particularly those who may have difficulty in getting back to their car, whether they are elderly or a mother shopping with her children during the day. They might be 10 minutes over and have to pay a significant fine as a consequence. Is that realistic or necessary? Absolutely not. It is more about the approach to handing out fines.

I am aware that many people in my constituency have questioned the integrity of parking enforcement officers. I am sure that redcoats' jobs are not easy. They are doing what they are told to do, but some go way beyond that; you would almost think that they were commission-based.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Does the Member agree that one of the reasons why people question the integrity of the system, if not the people implementing it, is that in certain parts of Northern Ireland your chances of being hit with a fine are considerably higher than in others? The Lisburn Road has become something of a golden goose for the redcoats.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Absolutely, there are certain areas. I remember a particular redcoat in the Strabane district who was almost handing them out like raffle tickets at one stage, and her colleagues had to pull her back slightly. It damages those people's safety as well, and it is deeply frustrating having been on the tail end of it on one or two occasions.

I fully support providing the first 30 minutes free of charge, as it would be of huge benefit to town centres such as Strabane and Omagh. I am being parochial, but I am sure that, right across the board, not many will disagree.

(Madam Principal Deputy Speaker [Ms Ruane] in the Chair)

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

Can the Member tell us how that would work in practice, especially if you have town centres that are packed? You would probably have to triple the number of redcoats to keep the thing on balance.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Every council area has a different approach to this. I am aware of some that have provided free parking, and it has worked considerably well. That puts those town centres at a distinct advantage over, for instance, mine in Strabane or Omagh. We need to address this, and a more local approach needs to be taken. I believe there could be some accommodation. As Glyn Roberts said today, it would be hugely welcome.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I am concerned that the discussion that we have been having has been primarily, it sounds to me, in relation to off-street parking. The motion and the amendment are in respect of on-street parking and only on-street parking, so perhaps, when Members address that issue, they could address that issue.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Yes, it is taken on board, but I think it is a wholehearted debate in relation to parking generally.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Can the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will indeed. I think we are all aware of the points and how it affects our constituents on the ground and that the fines are far too heavy.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you, Principal Deputy Speaker. As Alliance spokesperson for infrastructure, I confirm that we will not support the motion. With reservation, we will support the amendment.

Before joining the Assembly, I had the privilege of working in the field of transport for almost 16 years. For the last nine of those, I worked in partnership with organisations to improve access to services for older people and people with disabilities. During that time, the issue of on-street car parking featured regularly in our considerations.

On-street car parking can create havoc for citizens. Being able to find an appropriate car parking space can be a problem, but, for many with disabilities and for families with young children, it is bad parking that causes most concern and danger. The reason I cannot support the motion is the populist request to reduce parking fines. Let me be clear: I do not like parking fines. No one likes parking fines, but, if you park correctly, you do not get a fine. If you park badly, you will get a fine. That fine needs to be enough of a deterrent to stop people parking badly in the first place. The current fine level is enough to make a driver think twice about parking where or when they should not. I do not agree that the fine should be reduced, as that would reduce the deterrent.

As I said, Alliance will support the amendment with reservation.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Will the Member take a point?

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Not at this point.

I said "with reservation" because the amendment suggests the Minister should investigate a reduction in mandatory car parking fines. I agree that the Minister should review car parking fines. However, this should not be an investigation just to reduce fines but should consider if the level of fine is enough to be an effective deterrent.

Why is it important that we deter people from parking badly? Bad parking forces mums to push a pram into the middle of the road. Bad parking forces people with visual impairments to go onto the road. Anybody who wants to find out more about this can contact Guide Dogs, who can show you just how difficult it can be. Bad parking prevents people who use wheelchairs from being able to use public footpaths. Bad parking takes up two spaces, preventing others from being able to park on-street. Bad parking blocks a bus lane, creating havoc for all road users at rush hour. Bad parking is the driver who decides to park in a clearly marked disability bay or on yellow lines. Bad parking is the fault of a driver who does not care who takes a risk. Bad parking happens when people are not deterred.

The mandatory fine is there to deter bad parking because of the negative impact it has on many people whom I have worked with over years. I encourage those looking to reduce parking fines to speak with the Inclusive Mobility and Transport Advisory Committee (IMTAC) and review their annual Baywatch reports, which highlight bad parking across Northern Ireland. With respect to a period of —

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Not at the moment.

With respect to a period of free on-street parking, I cannot support the 30 minutes specified in the motion. As a driver, I love free on-street car parking. In the villages and towns in my constituency of Strangford, there is free parking all day. In all those towns, you are permitted free parking up to a fixed time, and that time is set on the basis of local factors. In parts of Newtownards, you are allowed to park up to 60 minutes, but in other parts it is all-day free parking.

There are three controlled parking zones in Northern Ireland: Belfast, Lisburn and Newry. That is where this takes effect.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Will the Member please give way?

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I appreciate the Member giving way. The Member says that fines work. If fines work, why are my constituents in the city centre communities in the Market, Sandy Row and Donegall Pass tortured with people parking illegally? If fines work, the problem should not exist.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member will have an extra minute.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you. I agree, but in 2012, when the fines of £90 were introduced, it fell dramatically. Residents' parking schemes need to be brought forward, and I will come to that.

Thirty minutes' free car parking in areas sounds good until you consider that the time specified will not help mums or dads to get their pram out of the car, get their child unplugged from the car seat, go to do whatever they need to do and be back and do the reverse of that within 30 minutes. The amendment calls for a review of on-street parking times; indeed, by having a review, the Department can consider whether there are any negative impacts, such as the one I just outlined, for people with dependants. Section 75 comes into play here, folks.

A review can also take into consideration all the businesses that are being negatively impacted on by parking arrangements. Local rural shop owners have come to me to say that all-day free car parking hurts their businesses. In the village of Kircubbin, for example, shop owners are losing business because some commuters leave cars on the street while they take the bus to work. Other shop employees leave their cars parked all day and block access to local shops. In some villages, they want to see the introduction of limited free parking in conjunction with residents' passes to ensure that residents do not face the issues faced in the controlled parking zone areas.

Parking is an emotive subject. Bad parking causes difficulty for other road users, particularly pedestrians. A responsible Government must, therefore, consider putting in place deterrents to prevent people from taking risks and putting others' lives in danger. None of us likes parking fines, but, if the fine is high enough, it makes drivers think twice about parking dangerously or badly. Let us have a review of free parking, and let us ask local businesses what they think. Let us also consider the wider issue of sustainable transport and how we will reduce emissions. Let us consider how we can prevent our towns and villages being clogged up with on-street parking and plan our parking better.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

There is real concern, especially among local businesses in our towns, that current parking issues and car parking fine levels hamper trade and cause real hardship for some of those businesses. In Bangor, there have been serious issues with the lack of available car parking provision for Main Street, with such provision having been taken away under the recent public realm work. To bring shoppers back into our struggling town centres, there need to be incentives for shoppers to do so. It is not enough for businesses to put sales on continually; the public need and want easy access to parking, which will enable our town centres to compete with out-of-town shopping centres that offer attractive free car parking, which gives them an unfair advantage.

As is the case in England, Northern Ireland's towns and cities have suffered from significant decline over many years, principally due to the increased presence of out-of-town retail developments. That was a key conclusion in the Northern Ireland Assembly Social Development Committee's inquiry into town centre regeneration in 2009. There needs to be a rethink on the lack of free car parking spaces, a rethink on the level of fines and a rethink on the amount of time someone can have access to a car parking space free of charge. Shoppers want to be able to come into our towns in a way that does not cause them hassle and lead to complications, and the only way to do that is to encourage them in through easier parking.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. The point that I wanted to make to the Member for Strangford, who would not give way, is that, in the Member's constituency of North Down — in Bangor and Newtownards, for example — people can park for up to one hour free, as he outlined. Why is it, do you think, that that does not apply to people in some of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland in the city of Belfast? Surely there is a clear imbalance. Does the Member agree?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

Thank you. There certainly seems to be an imbalance across Northern Ireland. There does not seem to be the same approach. That needs to be addressed urgently.

A negative and costly experience in any town will have an impact on someone's decision to return to shops there. That is coupled with the extortionate fines being handed out to those who are only minutes late back to their car: they get £90 fines. That, however, is reduced to £45 if it is paid within a certain number of days, which, I believe, is 14 days. A total of £4·5 million has been raised from parking penalty charge notices from 2015 up to March 2016. That figure was given in response to an Assembly question from my colleague Carla Lockhart. I found it disturbing that the response to the question stated:

"Therefore the revenue received from parking PCNs is required to finance the services my Department provides."

It is deeply worrying that the Department for Infrastructure is relying on penalty charge notices. In my opinion, overzealous car parking attendants are actively competing to raise as much revenue as possible as an alternative source of income for the Department. That is wrong. It sends out the wrong message, damages local businesses and needs to be addressed.

In fact, it was the then Ulster Unionist Regional Development Minister who announced — without any shame, I might add — his intention to generate income of £2·1 million from off-street car parking charges in provincial towns and from on-street charges.

The majority of on-street parking is free, with exceptions in Belfast, Lisburn and Newry. Usually, drivers are allowed to park for one hour before having to move. In my opinion, that needs to be reduced to 30 minutes to encourage more people to go into their town to get their messages and move on so that others can then afford of the same time, thereby encouraging quick access and helping more people to afford parking. I do not see the need for drop-off points, such as the one created in Main Street, Bangor, which took away further car parking spaces, was not even wanted by traders and is still abused by delivery van drivers who cannot be bothered to go to the loading bays at the rear of the shop premises.

The Department remains the transport authority and retains responsibility for on-street parking. It is vital that the Department starts to listen to the needs of local businesses in struggling town centres, and that means working with councils and preparing local transport strategies. I understand that the Department is looking at this, but it is taking far too long. It needs to take an approach much more quickly, as time is everything to local businesses. A Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) report recommended 80 policy priorities for local economic development and that DRD devolve on-street car parking to councils to give them more responsibility for developing the potential of their towns. Councils should give discount on their off-street car parks at key times, such as Christmas and other festivals. Free one-hour on-street car parking in 30 towns should continue. Indeed, it should be extended to all towns, including Belfast, Lisburn and Newry, but lowered to 30 minutes.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

Sorry, I am coming to the end.

In conclusion, urgent action is required to reduce the burden of fines and increase flexibility in order to encourage shoppers into our town centres. Transport NI should start to listen for a change. The Minister needs to move quickly and look at this as a matter of urgency for our local businesses and shoppers.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

Representing a constituency with a large rural economy, I fully understand the motion and happily support it. In many of our rural towns, street parking is essential for businesses to remain viable. In our medium-sized and larger towns and cities, which have substantial car parking availability, the need for a pragmatic approach is plausible. That is why I see a period of free parking as an encouragement to shoppers to use the car parking provided rather than blocking side streets.

The motion states that the first 30 minutes should be free, but I am aware that smaller towns would like that period to be extended. As our economy begins to grow, we should encourage the population to come into our towns and spend money in the shops, socialise and have a meal or a coffee, though I fully appreciate that online shopping is a reality and here to stay. However, limited free parking and lower fines could help to boost the retail sector by encouraging footfall on our streets as the economy grows. It would mean more employment in retail and less dependency on benefits — a win-win situation.

My office deals with many people who are irate at the price of a parking ticket. This does not mean that they or I condone illegal parking, but I believe that the penalty should be lower. I have been told very definitively what people think of the fine level. Punishment can still be applied but at a level that would be seen as more appropriate. For many — unless you are Stephen Nolan — £90 can mean real financial hardship, even when the individual accepts that they were in the wrong. I ask the Minister to carefully examine the motion, taking into consideration the impact that parking fines and the cost of car parking has on rural towns, and to proactively address the problem as a matter of importance in developing our town centre economies. I support the motion.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

The motion calls for tactical changes to address what is a strategic problem. Of course, the lack of free car parking is a source of competitive disadvantage for our town centres as compared with out-of-town shopping centres with plenty of free parking. However, if the objective of the motion is to encourage trade across Northern Ireland, it is very one-dimensional in its approach.

My colleagues Jenny Palmer and Danny Kennedy submitted an amendment calling for on-street car parking to be included within a comprehensive set of measures to encourage greater trade in our cities, towns and villages, but unfortunately it was not taken. The motion calls for a review, which we are happy to support. However, we have issues with some aspects of the motion and believe that the amendment provides a more rounded and practical way forward.

The motion proposes that the £90 car parking fine should be significantly reduced, but figures released by the Department last year showed that only 7% of penalty charge notices were paid at the full £90 rate, with a further 3% paying an additional penalty to make a headline cost of £135. Sixty-seven per cent, two thirds, paid the discounted fine of £45 for payment made within 14 days of the PCN being issued. The remainder of those who were fined were either in the process of challenging the fine, and many of them managed to evade it, or were part of a small 5% who were in various stages of debt recovery.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

Yes, certainly.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Will the Member agree that one of the things that really frustrates people about the system is its total inflexibility? For example, I was dealing with a constituent whose care worker was fined because her car was parked where it should not be while she was in his house administering medication to his wife.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute. I will just remind Members that they should not refer to amendments that have not been accepted.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

Duly noted, Principal Deputy Speaker. I take Mr Stalford's point. Certainly, there needs to be flexibility in the system. That is why a review is required. I am sure that the Minister will weave that into his proposals. The bottom line is that the £90 fine is paid only by a very small minority. I am not sure how the reduction to the headline rate would improve the situation. There is no doubt that a lack of free and accessible car parking is an issue for shoppers and traders, but, as I said earlier, this needs to be looked at strategically.

What role can improved public transport, for example, play in bringing shoppers into town centres and making towns more attractive by reducing traffic congestion? If the disincentive to park badly, causing inconvenience and potentially danger to others, is reduced, what would be the negative impact on town centres resulting from this proposal? What package of improvements is needed to incentivise retailers and traders to locate in town centres with the ongoing growth in online sales in so many sectors? I know that the Finance Minister is reviewing non-domestic rates and the issue is a priority for the Committee for Finance as well. At one of our recent meetings, the research pack highlighted the difference in rates bills of a traditional retailer and an online trader with similar turnovers. The example that it used, which is maybe not a great one for Northern Ireland, was Harrods versus the online retailer ASOS. Both companies have similar turnovers — £716 million for Harrods compared with £769 million for ASOS — but Harrods pays rates of £11·5 million per year while ASOS pays less than £1 million. I appreciate that these are not on the same scale as Northern Ireland, but the example effectively illustrates the problem.

Therefore, there needs to be a holistic approach to town centre development and car parking. While car parking plays a significant role, it is only one factor in a range of many. If we really want to localise on-street car parking and provide a tailored solution to each town and area across Northern Ireland, we need to devolve the power to local government. Councils will then be able to provide a bespoke service that suits the requirements of the town centres in their areas. This solution is supported by NILGA, NIIRTA and, as I have noticed in previous debates, many in the Chamber. The proposal for the first 30 minutes to be free affects only, as many have said, Lisburn, Newry and Belfast. I think that that further illustrates the need for local solutions to local problems. Until that long-term solution can be implemented, I would support —

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

I am finishing now. I am sorry.

I would support a full review of on-street car parking by the Minister for Infrastructure. I hope that the Minister can outline his proposals to do this in his response to the debate.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the debate and support the motion. Complaints about parking fines, tickets or overzealous parking enforcement officers — "redcoats", as they have been called in the Chamber — are issues that come into every one of our constituency offices.

Time and time again, we hear of inconsistency in the approach to parking enforcement across the North. Shopkeepers say that the redcoats drive trade out of our town centres and into out-of-town multinational retail parks. While the multiples play a vital part in our economy, we must do more to protect and grow our town centres, indigenous businesses and our SMEs. Traders, particularly small, independent retailers, find it tough enough to survive at the minute. They are competing with online shopping, the upwards re-evaluation of business rates a couple of years ago and the parking regimes in many of our towns and cities.

As we are all aware, responsibility for off-street parking transferred to councils last year. It is seen as a success, giving local authorities the power to use reduced-rate parking incentives as a way of attracting shoppers into our towns and villages. Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has set parking fees at 40p an hour or three hours for £1 in Newry. Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has opted for 30p an hour or five hours for £1 in Armagh city. That is local decision makers making decisions that best fit their area.

No one likes to get a parking ticket. When someone is unfortunate enough to get the dreaded note under their wiper, we want them to learn a lesson. We do not want to deter them from entering our town centres in the future. On-street parking is charged for in Belfast, Lisburn and Newry, whereas it is free, with time restrictions, across the rest of the North. Those paying for on-street parking pay between 8.00 am and 6.00 pm. The SDLP wants to see the current regime reviewed. The system for charging and fining must be fair and equitable. One frustrating complaint that I have had is from delivery drivers, especially in Newry. They constantly tell me that they find it increasingly hard to make a delivery without getting a ticket.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

Thanks for giving way. You said at the start that you supported the motion, but you then called for a review. That is what the Minister advocates.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute. Beidh nóiméad sa bhreis ag an Chomhalta.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Correction: I support the amendment.

The redcoats are not only driving customers out of towns but disrupting the daily operation of business. What is more frustrating is the inconsistency. One attendant can be accommodating one day whereas a different attendant the next day can be ruthless and completely inflexible. I am mindful of the tough job that parking enforcement officers have and of the fact that they are trying to earn their corn.

We need to see the system reviewed. We need to take on board the views of motorists, traders and delivery companies alike. We need to see engagement with local government, town centre groups and Chambers of Commerce. We need to ensure traffic turnover while accommodating the needs of shoppers. Can the fee be reduced? Can the time to pay a reduced fee be extended from two weeks to one month? Do we have enough parking available in our cities, towns and villages? I want to see a review of on-street parking charges, particularly those in Newry. Why does charging happen in Belfast, Lisburn and Newry but nowhere else? Is it really necessary? A serious discussion is needed. Let us have it, and let us engage with those whom I have mentioned. I support the amendment.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I will be brief. My speech is primarily to support many of the points that my colleague Kellie Armstrong raised. I will concentrate on the proposal for the first 30 minutes of on-street car parking being free. That would prove incredibly problematic for the Minister, the Department, officials and, ultimately, those who have to enforce it on the ground. We all know that the traffic wardens have a route that they follow. They will know instantly when somebody has put a ticket —

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. Does he agree that the economies of Belfast, which is the economic driver for the region, Lisburn, which is an important and growing city, and Newry, which deals so much in cross-border trade, are vital? How does what he says apply in Bangor and Newtownards, where the first hour is free? Is he not arguing against himself?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I am not arguing against myself — I am arguing that we want to make this clear. We need clarity on parking. When somebody parking on the street buys a ticket and puts it on their windscreen, the parking enforcement staff know when that person commenced their parking. If the first 30 minutes were free, it would be very difficult for them to know when that time started, particularly in Belfast and other towns where on-street parking is important to create a flow and changeover of people parking. That is the real lifeblood for shops and businesses and for appointments and cash machines on the street that people are required to use.

Members have said today that they do not relish the thought of having to pay a parking fine. No one relishes the thought of having to pay a parking fine, but, unless the penalty — everybody knows what the penalty will be — is a large sum lodged in your head and very clearly known, then it fails to act as an appropriate deterrent. There is a derogation; it is reduced to £45. People accept that that is a reasonable sum to pay in the event of default.

There are also very clear guidelines. There are Members in the Chamber who have tried to throw up some smoke and mirrors in terms of the operation of parking enforcement officers. The reality is that they work to very strict guidelines on the amount of additional grace time given, which is exactly 10 minutes. My concern is that if we start to confuse all of those elements, we make it more difficult for the parker, for enforcement and for shoppers and those who wish to trade on high streets and streets across our province where these rules are applicable.

The Alliance Party, as my colleague has said, will not support the motion, but we will support the amendment because it invites the Minister to provide further clarity but does not require him to reduce the penalty.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion today. There appears to be an awful lot of confusion between on-street, off-street and the entire issues that we are discussing today.

As Minister for Infrastructure, I have overall responsibility for ensuring that we have an efficient and safe transportation system in the North. This includes ensuring that vehicle drivers have access to the various business and retail sectors in our town and city centres. In order to deliver this, my officials and their service providers have two tools at their disposal, namely, parking provision and the associated tariffs and parking enforcement. Correctly levelled tariffs are aimed at ensuring there is a turnover of parking provision whilst, at the same time, allowing vehicle users enough time to go about their daily business.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the issues relating to adequate and affordable on-street parking for the growth and development of our town centres. I have listened with interest to the issues and concerns that Members have raised. The main issues of concern relate to the current cost of a penalty charge notice (PCN) and the provision of cheaper and longer on-street car parking. Our aim is to reduce the number of illegally parked vehicles on the road. We want to reduce congestion, thereby improving the vitality of our towns and cities. We do not want to issue PCNs, but if we have to, we will. We want everybody to park properly; that has to be the message that is heard today.

The cost of a PCN increased to £90 on 1 June 2012, and it is discounted to £45 if paid within 14 days. Indications are that this charge is having the desired effect of discouraging people from parking illegally, as the numbers of PCNs issued per annum has declined. The overall trend of the number of PCNs issued has been downwards, even though car and van ownership continues to increase, and that is an indication that the deterrent nature of the cost of a PCN is having a positive effect. The number of penalty charge notices issued has fallen from an all-time high of 163,000 in 2007 to 110,000 in 2015, despite the number of vehicles rising in that same period by up to 5%.

The area in which on-street charges apply is called a controlled parking zone (CPZ). We have three in city centres here, namely Belfast, Lisburn and Newry.

The pay-and-display machines currently in use in our controlled parking zones cannot be configured to allow the tariffs to be charged in this way as they are not designed to accommodate a multi-layered range of tariffs. To carry out parking enforcement for any system introduced that offers the first 30 minutes of parking free would be extremely resource-intensive. This is because traffic attendants would be required to undertake a series of additional observations to enable them to determine the validity of parking times being claimed.

Currently, traffic attendants patrol streets in controlled parking zones two or three times per day by adhering to predetermined schedules known as beats. Each beat has been designed to optimise the resources available to obtain maximum efficiency and effectiveness. When patrolling the streets in a controlled parking zone, traffic attendants must check each parked vehicle for evidence of a valid parking ticket ie that a pay-and-display ticket has not expired or that it has an equivalent cashless parking session logged. This involves traffic attendants making a single pass of each street as they continue to patrol the remainder of their beat. Then, as part of the cyclical process, they will repeat this process later in the day to deal with any vehicles with expired parking time and record details of any newly parked vehicles.

The success of any restricted parking facility relies on effective parking enforcement. For the enforcement of any system that enables free parking for the first 30 minutes to be effective, traffic attendants would be required to return to each street on multiple occasions to carry out checks on each vehicle to determine the validity of its parking status. This would be detrimental to our ability to meet all the enforcement demands across each CPZ and in other critical situations which rely on parking enforcement, such as urban clearways and arterial routes. Offering free on-street parking in this way would also create a negative impact as a result of drivers circling the controlled parking zones to avoid parking in charged off-street car parks where the 30-minute free parking rate would not apply.

Turning to the review of the parking enforcement contract; the current contract with NSL Services for the provision of parking enforcement and car park management services commenced on 30 October 2012 for an initial four-year term and has recently been extended by mutual agreement for a further three years. That contract does not affect any decision my Department may take in the future relating to the cost of a PCN, on-street parking tariffs or limited waiting times.

Turning to comments made by Members today, William Humphrey, in a gallant effort to step in for Edwin Poots who was due to kick off today's session, mentioned traders. It is an emotive issue that comes up time and again, but we need to look at evidence. I have yet to see studies, reports or evidence that lead me to believe that we should do one thing or another and it is something that I want to address.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP 1:00 pm, 7th November 2016

I thank the Minister for giving way. If you go into Belfast — and I speak as a Belfast representative — then the number of shops that have closed is noticeable, particularly in the traditional shopping areas such as Donegall Place and Royal Avenue and so on. There has been a shift towards the new Victoria Centre. When you talk to the Chamber of Commerce and businesspeople, as we did a few weeks ago, and when you look at the shops that are empty, the traffic chaos, the buses that are unable to get round and the people who are unable to flow into the city to do their shopping, you can see that the city centre traders are really under pressure. In Northern Ireland, we do not have a level playing field as regards Belfast, Lisburn and Newry: those city centres are under real pressure.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I remind Members that interventions should be short.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

The Member mentioned improving the flow into our cities but the DUP is suggesting here today that we take away or reduce one of the tools we have to deter people from parking in urban clearways and main arterial routes — the £90 or £45 charge. I know that £15 has been thrown out by the DUP today but, if we reduced it to that, I would be very worried at the impact it might have on urban clearways and main arterial routes.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

I heard the £15 amount thrown out as well, and some people might say that that would be cheaper than paying in a car park and that they could park wherever they want. I am not sure that it would be much of a deterrent in the city centre.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her intervention. Again, it raises an important point.

The comments of both Kellie Armstrong and Philip Smith helped to shine a light and bring a bit of reason to this debate, especially those from Ms Armstrong with her background in community transport. I listened with great delight to an awful lot that the Member said. The central message was that you get a fine only if you park illegally; if you do not park illegally, you do not get a fine.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I am sorry, but I want to go on. Members complained about the black-and-white nature of this, but it is because we are talking about laws: if it is illegal to park in a certain fashion, it is illegal to park in a certain fashion.

Many Members touched upon — this will be part of any review — the need to look at a differential penalty system. Parking two or three inches outside a parking bay should not carry the same weight as blocking a main arterial route into the city. I am more than happy to look at that. Certainly, for me, that would be part of a wider review that the amendment calls for.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Minister, I am a bit annoyed about the term "illegal". Yes, in definition it possibly is, but we are talking about individuals who have been at an appointment that has overrun and have come back to their car park five minutes after the time has expired. We are talking about flexibility. A £90 fine may be reduced, but that is still excessive.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

The Member is being misleading. There is a 10-minute observational period. A person coming back after five minutes will be totally fine because there is a 10-minute observational period. The observational period has to come to an end; we cannot have it being 20, 25 or 30 minutes as you start eating considerably into another hour. There is a 10-minute window, and there is flexibility in the system.

You can appeal, and there are three stages. You can challenge, and it is dealt with within 14 days of receipt of the PCN by the parking enforcement unit; the second stage is representation, which is dealt with between days 14 to 30 by the enforcement unit; the third stage is appeal, which is dealt with by the parking penalty tribunal. There are flexibilities, and each appeal is considered on its merit. It is not accurate to suggest that there are not sufficient flexibilities in the system.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister talks about flexibilities in the system. We are aware of the reduced penalty available to people who pay within 14 days. Will the Minister consider introducing new flexibility and giving people a bigger window when they can avail of the reduced fee, maybe 28 days, so that people who are paid monthly or those on low incomes can avail of that reduction?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention. The Member has flagged up why there is worthiness to a review, but we should have a review that looks at all the issues and not simply, "Let's reduce parking fines". Let us look holistically at all the issues to see the best way forward.

Another issue raised was that, somehow, this is a cash cow for the Department and that it is about raising money for the Department. In the years ahead, certainly while I am Minister, I hope that no PCNs are made. I hope that people park within the law and that there is no revenue at all coming from this area for the Department.

It is the same with bus lanes. I hope that people do not have to pay the sort of money. Again, to go back to the remarks of Philip Smith, and this gets to the heart of the discussion, the motion is a tactical error to a strategic problem. There is a certain validity in looking at the strategic issue of on-street car parking and the way forward, and that is certainly something that I am happy to do. At the heart of the motion —

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

Sorry, I want to finish this. At the heart of the motion is a seriously misguided logic. The four pillars of the motion collapse under even a cursory examination of the evidence, leaving the motion entirely unworkable, unmanageable and full of unintended consequences for our attempts to improve traffic flow and to breathe life into town centres.

In conclusion, I am happy enough to look at a review; it is certainly something that I will take forward. However, my review will be based on the principles of evidence, focused on reforms that work in the interests of managing limited on-street spaces effectively, improving the flow of traffic, and conducive to town-centre growth and vitality.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

The Minister raised a number of the issues that Members brought up about the motion, so I will try to condense what has been said and the issues that have been raised. I have no doubt about William Humphrey's sincerity because we all deal with difficult problems in centres, and he spoke of the fines being punitive and talked about the need for balance and that the additional penalty of £45 needs to be reviewed.

Seán Lynch said that the motion is populist and that the fine of £45 is to try to reduce problems and is only increased to £90 when people do not pay.

Jenny Palmer said that there is merit in both the motion and the amendment, but she went on to say that the amendment, because it takes in a review, is probably the best way forward.

Justin McNulty said that there are inconsistencies in the approach across the North. He talked about trading competing with online shopping and said that we need ways to encourage people back into town centres.

Stewart Dickson said that 30 minutes' free parking would be problematic for the Minister and that there needs to be clarity on these matters, especially when free parking is available. He also said that £45 is a reasonable sum of money when you consider what it is there to do.

Alex spoke about the serious issues in Bangor. I would have been surprised if he did not raise the issue of Bangor in the midst of his speech; in fact, I am surprised that he did not get a couple of other parts of his constituency into it also. He made a point about the difficulties that people face, especially when shopping, and about trying to encourage people back in to shop. He also spoke about overzealous parking attendants, which seemed to be a theme that ran through many of the issues that Members raised.

George Robinson said that he represents a large rural constituency where on-street parking is essential in towns and villages and that we should, again, encourage people to come into towns. He also said that a reduction in fines would be a great help, but punishment could still be applied on certain occasions.

Philip Smith said that the amendment offers a more rounded approach. He gave statistics on the payment of fines and said that there are very few who do not pay. He said that a review is required, and he is sure that the Minister will take that on board.

If I have left Members out, I apologise. The Minister said that he would do a review and take on board what Members said here. He said that the review will be wide and encompass everything.

I will just make a few points.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Thank you very much for giving way. On the basis of the last figures that I found available, which were for 2012, it was costing over £9 million to NSL. Given that there are 115 operatives on the streets of Northern Ireland, do you think that £80,000 per redcoat is good value for money and, therefore, that the matter should be reviewed?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Beidh nóiméad sa bhreis ag an Chomhalta. The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I take on board what you are saying, but I think that it has been mentioned here that, when the Ulster Unionists were speaking, they did not speak about when their party member was the Minister and what was done then. Certainly, the DUP did not say that this could have been dealt with when it had the Ministry the last time around.

I think that what the Minister is offering here is a balanced way out of this. He is offering to do a review that will allow Members — certainly, the Committee will take it on board — to have an input. It is about trying to find a happy medium that does not punish people unduly, which encourages people back into town and city centres, and which deals with the serious problem of people parking and blocking communities in city and town centres unduly. What we need is a free flow of traffic in many of those centres, and the only way that you can have that is by ensuring that you have in place procedures that allow you to deal with what people would call illegal parking.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

The Member, like me, has the honour to represent the great city of Belfast, and he talks about the free flow of traffic. The difficulty in encouraging people to park their car and travel into Belfast city centre is the fact that there is a continual logjam of buses in the city centre, preventing a free flow of traffic and people from going into the city centre to shop and support the local economy. Does he agree with that?

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I agree that there have been problems with buses in the city centre for many years. I think that there has been a reduction and that, in a number of parts of the city, the rapid transit scheme will be another plank to encourage people to use public transport to come into the city. What the Minister and all Ministers who have held the post have said —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker 1:15 pm, 7th November 2016

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

— is that we need to encourage more and more people to use public transport. If we can crack that nut, we can start to tackle and defeat the problem of parking in city centres, town centres —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

— and villages.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Having listened to the debate, I think that it is unfortunate that so many Members appear to have missed the point of the wording of the motion. It clearly calls for a review. It does not prejudge the outcome of that review; it calls for a review.

Parking is an enormous issue in South Belfast. I think particularly of the communities that I represent in the city centre area in Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and the Market, where people are tortured as a consequence of people using their neighbourhood as a car park. Various Members have told us that there has been a reduction in illegal parking: I have to say to the House and the Minister that that is not the experience of the people living in the Market, Sandy Row or Donegall Pass. The experience of people living there is that, despite the fact that fines went up — we were assured that that would be a massive deterrent to illegal parking — the problem has persisted. The Minister is, of course —

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. Does he agree that there are no activated residents' parking schemes in Northern Ireland and that it is time for the Department to formalise one? We appreciate that there are some problems, but those could act as a model for others.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker. That is not true.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I have asked the Minister an Assembly question and hope that he will respond positively to Pakenham Street off Donegall Pass being treated as a pilot for residents-only parking. It is something that people want to see, and, if it is got right, it will help —

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

One second. If it is got right, it will help to alleviate the suffering of the inner-city communities that are afflicted by excessive parking. I give way.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I have been involved with those communities, and I can understand what you are saying. William spoke earlier about the communities that are invaded every day. A Sinn Féin Minister brought the issue of residents' parking to the fore, but it fell apart because a number of residents' groups would not accept some of the passes that were offered, although they had been offered a pilot scheme for a year in which that could all have been worked out. We need to get them back and make an offer again. A couple of weeks ago, the Minister announced that he had brought in a residents' parking scheme in Derry.

[Interruption.]

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I remind Members that, if they are making interventions, they need to be brief. I also ask Members to talk through the Chair.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The Member has made his point and eliminated the chance for me to make a few of mine. I am grateful to him for that contribution.

As my colleague William Humphrey said, Belfast city centre is vital, so Belfast City Council is able to provide all the services that it does to all the people throughout the city. At present, our arterial routes — I think particularly of the Lisburn Road — are being damaged because of the excessive zeal being shown by parking enforcement officers. If you speak to traders on the Lisburn Road, they will tell you that that is the case.

People would welcome the idea of the first 30 minutes of parking being free. It would allow them, in the case of, say, the Lisburn Road, to park, visit one or two shops and then get back in their car and get out. It would also help those in Sandy Row in a fortnight's time —

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

In a minute. In a fortnight's time, it would also help those in Sandy Row to park and go into the office of their local DUP Assembly Member and have a conversation for half an hour and then leave without the risk of being fined by a parking enforcement officer.

The fact is that the appeal process, which the Minister referenced, is a joke. I would be interested to hear in raw numbers and percentage terms the number of appeals that are upheld. During the debate, I referenced a case that I dealt with in which a care worker visiting an elderly man was fined because part of her car was on a double yellow line. She was fined even though she was in a house administering medication to an elderly person. It is the total inflexibility of the system that lots of people —

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I do not have time. I am sorry; I would.

Lots of people find it very frustrating. People want more flexibility in the system, and that is what our motion calls for. Even though the fines went up, the parking problems persist. It is having a damaging impact on the city centre by discouraging people from going there. I have spoken to traders who have said that. I never thought that I would see charity shops on Royal Avenue, but that is what Belfast city centre has been reduced to. We need to take action in this area not only to protect our vital city centre trade but to give people a fair shake.

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 57; Noes 32

AYES

Mr Aiken, Mr Allen, Ms Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Mr Attwood, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Mr Butler, Mr Chambers, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Mrs Dobson, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Ford, Ms Gildernew, Ms Hanna, Mr Hazzard, Mr Kearney, Mr Kelly, Mr Kennedy, Mrs Long, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCrossan, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McKee, Mr McMullan, Mr McNulty, Mr McPhillips, Ms Mallon, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Mullan, Mr Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs Overend, Mrs Palmer, Ms Seeley, Mr Smith, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Lynch, Mr F McCann

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mrs Little Pengelly, Ms Lockhart, Mr Logan, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr McQuillan, Mr Middleton, Lord Morrow, Mr Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Mr Weir

Tellers for the Noes: Mr McQuillan, Mr Robinson

The following Members voted in both Lobbies and are therefore not counted in the result: Mr Agnew, Ms Bailey

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly recognises the vital importance of adequate and affordable on-street parking for the growth and development of our town centres; notes the need for the Minister for Infrastructure to review the provisions for on-street parking; calls on the Minister for Infrastructure to carry out an investigation into the reduction of mandatory car parking fines; and further calls on the Minister for Infrastructure to look at options to review on-street car parking fees and times.