Councillors divided over free parking decision

Longford Chamber of Commerce President Seamus Butler welcomed Longford Town Council’s decision to provide free off-street parking from Wednesday, December 19 to Monday, December 24 next and for the four Saturdays just prior to the festive week.

Longford Chamber of Commerce President Seamus Butler welcomed Longford Town Council’s decision to provide free off-street parking from Wednesday, December 19 to Monday, December 24 next and for the four Saturdays just prior to the festive week.

The decision, which was passed by just one vote at a special meeting of the town authority, came on the back of a proposal submitted by Cllr Paul Connell and hotly debated before town representatives cast their votes.

Councillors Paul Connell, James Keogh, Mae Sexton, Brendan Gilmore and Michael Connellan all voted in favour of the proposal to provide free car parking, while councillors Denis Hughes, Tony Flaherty, Gerry Warnock and Peggy Nolan voted against.

Mark McNerney, Administrative Officer, Longford Town Council, told the meeting that it was not “economically viable” to introduce the free parking measure because it would equate to around €15,000 of a decline in Town Council revenue, a scenario he said was “unacceptable” in the current economic climate.

Cllr Tony Flaherty (FF) said paid parking had been introduced in Longford town “because of the pressure” put on the town authority by the local Chamber of Commerce.

“The paid parking in this town was brought in at the request of Longford Chamber of Commerce and now they go writing to us looking for free parking – it’s ridiculous and there needs to be clarity once and for all on this situation.”

The meeting was told that Longford Town Council had borrowed €3m to provide adequate space for off-street car parking under the new regime and Mr McNerney said that while the debt had been cleared, it was imperative that the revenue generation from paid parking continued so that the town authority could keep its head above financial waters.

“We have a duty to look after ratepayers in this town,” said Cllr Michael Connellan (FF). “We also have a duty of care to the people who travel into this town to shop.”

Cllr Denis Hughes (FG) replied, “I don’t think that the parking issue is actually as big an issue as what we – the Town Council – are making of it here in this chamber.”

“The work of this council in managing the budget for this authority cannot be undermined and it appears to me that the provision of free parking will cost in the region of €30,000,” Gerry Warnock (Ind), then added. “I agree with Cllr Hughes, because I really don’t believe that €2 in parking fees will make any difference to anyone who is coming into this town to do their Christmas shopping. I thoroughly support the efforts that are being carried out by Mark McNerney with regard to the financial side of things; I can tell you Mark, you have at least four friends here.”

Cllr Peggy Nolan (FG) then pointed to the fact that paid parking had never become an issue in towns like Athlone, Mullingar, Cavan and Tullamore, “like it had become in Longford”.

“The carry-on by members of this council over paid parking is not on any more, and I am asking you all to stop it now,” she remarked. “As far as I am concerned Longford is a great town, a great place to shop in, and I do believe that shoppers don’t mind one bit putting their two euros into the parking meters.”