FERMANAGH and Omagh District Council has decided against providing free car parking in Omagh town centre on the two weekends before Christmas.
The decision was taken at a recent meeting of the council’s environmental services committee.
It followed concerns from local traders about the impact the absence of parking charges had on their businesses last Christmas. They felt workers had taken advantage of the free parking with minimal spaces left for shoppers.
The council has also opted against implementing a reduced charge of 50p for three hours.
Instead the normal parking charges will apply throughout the Christmas period.
Omagh town Sinn Féin councillor, Ann Marie Fitzgerald said the situation regarding free parking in Omagh last year was “horrendous” and had “driven people away”.
She said, “Omagh Town Centre Forum and traders were quite keen on keeping the charges and I would have some agreement with that,” she said.
“There was a consensus that shoppers coming into the town centre car parks found them occupied by workers and it had a big impact on the footfall and money generated for businesses.”
Her point was echoed by DUP councillor, Errol Thompson, who said free parking offered at South West College on weekends was not availed of.
However, Donal O Cofaigh from the Cross Community Labour Alternative said he disagreed with the ‘Scrooge-like’ approach being adopted.
“It’s hard enough for people come Christmas and I think that the least we should do as a council is offer free car parking in order to encourage people in,” he said.
“We managed well last year and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be doing it again.”
The council’s director of environment and place, Kevin O’Gara, said he had spoken to the Department for Infrastructure on the matter, who said it was impossible to regulate a system which would allow a period of three hours parking for free.
“What happens is that someone goes to work, uses the free space and then that space does not turnover on a regular basis during the day with the result that the shops don’t benefit from it,” he added.
Mid-Tyrone councillor, Sean Clarke, suggested that some way should be found of providing relief for workers in the town who were faced with the full charges.