Senator Power opposes paid parking in Howth

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Senator Averil Power: I wish to raise the proposed introduction of paid parking in Howth. I am not opposed to paid parking in all circumstances as it makes sense in certain cases. In Malahide it was the businesses which sought the introduction of paid parking because they were having a problem with people parking for the entire day which made it impossible for shoppers and visitors to park for short periods during the day. It also makes sense in Dublin city centre for the same reason, as there is a shortage of spaces and one needs to free them up to give the maximum number of people an opportunity to use them. This is absolutely not the case in Howth. Apart from a few fine days during the summer, there is never a problem with parking on the harbour.

Not only is it unnecessary to introduce paid parking in Howth, it would have a major negative impact on the area and put people off travelling there to shop in marine businesses such as fishmongers, restaurants and other retail businesses in the village. It would put people off travelling out to walk the pier and Howth Head and to use the marine resources. Marine leisure is a huge draw for Howth. Howth Yacht Club is the biggest water sports club in Ireland with 1,700 members. People go scuba diving, sea kayaking and angling in Howth. It has a wide range of water sports and has become more popular in recent years. A huge amount of activity takes place there. One of the reasons it is so attractive to such a wide range of users is because of the free parking. It is a difficult enough place to reach and is somewhere people go for the day. People do not pop in and out for half an hour but make the journey to spend the day.

I have tabled this Adjournment matter to raise this issue, which came as a shock. It is contrary to the marine development plan of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which was launched by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, the first key objective of which was stakeholder consultation whereby people would be asked when major decisions would be made. Local businesses were shocked to discover this was being considered without any consultation having taken place. Rumours had been circulating for months that it was being considered. It then emerged the local authority and the Garda had been asked for their views on an informal basis but local businesses had not.

There is huge opposition to the proposal. Representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine met some harbour users on 7 February and the points I have made were articulated strongly by a wide range of groups. Written submissions have been made by the yacht club, the sea kayaking club and the Howth Sutton Baldoyle chamber of commerce and the Howth Sutton community council. There is a wide range of opposition to the proposals.

I have written to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on this and I am awaiting a detailed response outlining the logic behind this. Has a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal been conducted? As I have outlined, there are many reasons to be against its introduction in terms of the impact on businesses, community groups and a wide range of users. It seems the only potential logic, if there is one, is that it would make money, but no evidence has been put forward to show this is the case. We know where paid parking has been introduced in other villages and towns throughout the country that it has been a disaster and one in three schemes is losing money.

It has been reported that local authorities around the country are losing millions of euro due to pay parking. There are many reasons against it and no case has been put forward to any of the interest groups that have been in touch with the Department showing that a proper feasibility analysis and cost-benefit analysis have been carried out.

Have such analyses been carried out by the Department? If so, what is the estimated income and on what charging structure, for example, hourly and daily rates, is that estimate based? What is the estimated cost of operating the system? Installing parking meters incurs a significant start-up cost and the ongoing cost of policing the system needs to be taken into account. Has an analysis of the likely loss of revenue to the State from other sources been conducted? Undoubtedly, Howth’s struggling businesses will be driven out of business by extra charges. Jobs will be lost. Have these factors been taken into account? Has the experience in other areas been considered? In Dún Laoghaire, for example, the Irish Sailing Association has written to the Department highlighting the problems brought about by the introduction of pay parking.

If the Minister of State cannot tell me whether such an analysis has been done, it will be shocking. Such a significant decision should only be based on proper research and analysis. However, if an analysis has been done, will it be published so that the stakeholders can see the rationale on which the Department has based its decision?

 

Deputy John Perry: I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I convey the Minister, Deputy Coveney’s regrets for being unable to be present. In terms of the issues raised and to set the context, Howth is one of six fishery harbour centres operated by the State, each of whose primary purpose is to provide facilities and services for the fishing industry and fisheries-related activities. Howth fishery harbour is, first and foremost, a working fishery harbour. As such, commercial traffic servicing the fishing side and the various ancillary enterprises requires full access with appropriate parking arrangements. Social harbour users such as the yacht club and others also require reasonable access to parking. A large number of parking spaces in the fishery harbour are currently being taken up by commuters using the nearby DART service during the working week.

All users need to be accommodated in a safe and secure facility. It is generally acknowledged that traffic and parking management within the fishery harbour centre needs to be addressed, particularly in light of the concerns raised about safety and emergency access by the Coast Guard, the life boat service and the Garda. The introduction of pay parking is only one of a number of measures being introduced to address these concerns.

There has been significant capital investment in the fishery harbour centres in recent years, underpinning the fisheries side and, in parallel, their expanding use for leisure and marine tourism and other maritime enterprises. Howth in particular has a long tradition in both respects. In the current economic climate, the State must be fully committed to maximising the return on its investment. Furthermore, the Minister’s Department is required to ensure that the fishery harbour centres are run on a financially sound basis. It is in these contexts that he is giving consideration to the introduction of a charge for parking facilities within Howth fishery harbour centre, just as a charge is made for using any other of its facilities.

As provided under the Fishery Harbour Centres Act 1968, all income generated by the fishery harbour centres goes into a ring-fenced fishery harbour centres fund that is used exclusively for day-to-day operating, management and development costs. It is the only source of income available for this purpose. Without it, fishery harbour centres would not function and could not provide a service to their customers, namely, the harbour users and the visiting public. In the Minister’s opinion, it is illogical that some harbour users would expect to continue to use such a facility free of charge while other harbour users, those who are already paying into the fund for using the harbour facilities, are effectively paying for its upkeep.

The introduction of pay parking at Howth fishery harbour centre was originally examined in detail in 2007 in the context of a proposed Howth traffic and parking management plan in conjunction with Fingal County Council. The Senator has undoubtedly seen that report. However, the plan did not proceed. There was widespread public consultation at the time and all of the various views expressed and submissions made are still on file. The Minister is well aware of the concerns as then expressed and is in receipt of new correspondence on this matter on an ongoing basis.

Departmental officials have formally and informally met officials of Fingal County Council’s operations department regarding the plans to introduce pay parking as well as other traffic management enhancements. Officials have also met the Garda about this and other related matters and Department engineers have met some of the harbour’s business tenants individually about new traffic management, road markings, etc. Departmental officials also attended a recent harbour users forum where pay parking was on the agenda.

The current rates and charges order, SI 214 of 2012, provides for a charge for parking in the fishery harbour centres. No tariff has yet been fixed for Howth, but with approximately 500 parking spaces within the boundaries of the fishery harbour centre, it is clear that a source of revenue exists in the form of this State asset, which was not provided and cannot be maintained for free.

A detailed scheme for pay parking is being developed by departmental officials and the Minister is determined that it will be fair to all users of the harbour while ensuring that everyone pays a fair share. I do not doubt that the Minister has carried out due diligence in terms of a cost-benefit analysis or that the report will be on file with Fingal County Council. The new parking arrangements will include pay and display parking for harbour visitors and a permit management system for business users. Regular harbour users will have noticed that all currently available parking spaces have been identified and marked recently.

The Department has asked the planning department of Fingal County Council for guidance on the latter’s requirements concerning possible environmental and visual impacts of pay and display machines and associated directional signage and will be pleased to take account of any requirement and recommendation the planning department might have.

The additional revenues to be generated from pay parking at the Howth fishery harbour centre will be re-invested in facilities and enhancements that would not otherwise have been possible, given the current financial constraints. These improvements can only be of benefit to the marine and leisure tourism sectors and local economies in general. In the long term, the Minister believes that harbour users and Howth people in general will recognise the benefits that will accrue from this previously untapped resource.

 

Senator Averil Power: I thank the Minister of State for his attendance and reply. As I appreciate that he is providing the answer on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, I understand that he is not in a position to answer some of my more detailed questions. However, the reply presents no evidence of this measure having been thought through properly. It is laden with language about the principle that users should pay, but the logic of a cost-benefit analysis is not evident. There is no evidence that the Department has considered the real cost of introducing charges.

As with previous responses from the Department on this issue, the Minister of State’s reply focused on the marine aspect. While I appreciate that this is the main focus of the Department of the marine, we are supposed to have a whole-of-government approach. It is everyone’s responsibility at the Cabinet table to look beyond their individual Departments to the impact of measures on local businesses, community groups and jobs. If people lose their jobs in Howth businesses, they will go on social welfare.

I respect the fact that the Minister of State is not in a position to answer my questions, but will he raise the issue with the Minister? This is a serious matter. People will lose jobs because others will be put off the idea of travelling to Howth. The area has a small population and is dependent on tourism. The charging measure should have been thought through properly. From the reply, I have no confidence that it was. Will the Minister of State ask the Minister to correspond with me directly with the answers to my more specific questions on a cost-benefit analysis?

 

Deputy John Perry: The reply was comprehensive. There are 500 car parking spaces in Howth, a prosperous part of Dublin. There was a study in 2007, with due diligence carried out then. All the information and cost-benefit analysis is with Fingal County Council. Taking into account the emergency services that use the facilities and enhancement of the region, it is an important issue. This is one of the six State-owned harbours. The matter was initiated in 2007, during the last Administration.

 

Senator Averil Power: It did not proceed at that time for very good reasons.

 

Deputy John Perry: The legacy of the last Government is unfortunately still being felt. That was a time when the country was awash with money but no decision was made to benefit any business community. I have no doubt that the interaction involving business people will lead to collaboration that will benefit the region. I am from a business background and we cannot assume that it is good having 500 car parking spaces free of charge. I come from Sligo town, which does not have anything close to Howth Harbour’s locational advantages or amenities but there is still paid parking, even in centres that are out of town. A reasonable charge would allow the State reinvest some of the money.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is open to any reasonable suggestion for a new parking regime. I assure the House that he will try to be fair to all users of the harbour while ensuring that everybody would pay a fair share. The day when the country was awash with money that could be thrown at everything is gone and a cost benefit has been carried out for this proposal.

 

Senator Averil Power: I have a brief observation.

 

An Cathaoirleach: There is no provision for more supplementary questions.

 

Senator Averil Power: The reality of the impact is understood by local businesses, who must live with the reality of other extra charges placed on them. There is a genuine fear about the issue and I am not raising it for any reason other than they are worried that business will be lost.

 

Deputy John Perry: The business people will approve of it.

 

An Cathaoirleach: There is no provision in Standing Orders for this.

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