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Tuesday, 12th June 2018

Heat but not much light on parking debacle

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Mayor Frank Godfrey surrounded by the other Councillors after last night's bruising meeting of the Borough District of Drogheda.

New parking bye-laws passed but Councillors demand changes be made

Just minutes after he was elected Mayor of Drogheda last night Councillor Frank Godfrey found himself chairing one of the most contentious meetings of the Borough District of Drogheda.

The topic under discussion was the Draft Car Park Bye-Laws 2018 and it veered from being comical to nasty and heated and back to comical but at all times it was confusing.

It all began when County CEO Joan Martin said that it was important that the new set of bye-laws be adopted by the Councillors at that meeting because it would be July 18th before they came into effect which meant that there would have been no income from parking meters in Drogheda for three months.

The problem for many of the councillors was that the new bye laws as they stand do not take any cognisance of the disparity in parking fees between Drogheda and Dundalk.

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It was a major bugbear for many councillors, especially Kevin Callan, that the hourly fee for parking in Drogheda was €1.20 per hour whilst in Dundalk it was just €1.00.

Callan asked for clarification on whether or not the charge in Drogheda could be reduced to match the Dundalk fee but Ms. Martin was having none of it.

“That would cost anything up to €200k” she said and pointed out that the people of Drogheda have already had free parking ever since the old bye-laws were found to be not fit for purpose back in March.

“The differences between the two towns are not as straightforward as that” she said. “There are differences in the cost of all day parking and also in the number of spaces.”

Callan was not impressed. “I was told, the last time I asked, that equalised charges would be possible but now you’re saying the opposite” he said. “I am asking the CEO again to equalise charges across the County.”

Director of Services Paddy Donnelly interjected saying that equalisation was not as simple as it may seem. “It would have to be across the board” he said. “It could mean we’d have to introduce payment in some car parks in Drogheda that are currently free.”

The now former Mayor, Cllr Pio Smith, asked the CEO to “spell it out” and enquired if it was possible to pass the bye laws tonight and then lower the charge by way of an amendment at a special meeting.

Joan Martin explained that the important thing was to adopt the new bye-laws as they stood because any changes would mean they would have to be brought back to the solicitors and then put on public display again and then back to Council for approval and this would mean further delays in getting the revenue from parking fees.

Just when it seemed we were making progress, albeit painfully slowly, a spat broke out between the CEO and Cllr. Joanne Byrne who said she had major issues with the way the whole issue had been handled since day one.

“We explored the option of keeping the fee at €1.20 but with the 20cent being ring-fenced for spending in Drogheda but that seems to have gone by the board” she said.

“Have you done the costing?” Cllr. Richie Culhane asked, “Could Dundalk not be raised from €1.00 to €1.20?”

We were in freefall now. It was a good job the windows were open because there was a lot of heat being produced in the room. Heat, but not much light.

Cllr. Tommy Byrne chose that moment to raise the parking situation for residents in Windmill Road which, it has to be said, is absolutely chaotic but this was not the time to be looking for favours from the CEO.

“I believe Windmill Road should be made a special case and be given a number of “residents only” parking spaces or one side only parking” he said. “I doubt if the people of Drogheda would object.”

Whatever about the people of Drogheda, Joan was certainly not keen on that idea. For the umpteenth time she explained that if the bye-laws were changed they would have to go back on public display and it’ll be months before the pay parking revenue is back on stream.

“Let’s get the parking back working, it might not be all we want but we can discuss (the problems) at a special meeting” suggested Councillor David Saurin.

“If we reject it tonight we’re looking at another three months. There are several issues that need to be clarified, not just parking fees.”

Cllr. Paul Bell was next on his feet. “I want my town to be lifted from the siege of illegal parking” he said gravely.

He also suggested adopting the bye laws on the understanding that there would be goodwill forthcoming from the officials to iron out the problems at subsequent meetings.

Joan Martin was not having a good night. “I think this will take up to ten meetings and my diary is very busy” she said.

When pressed by Pio smith on a timeline for the meetings (he suggested it could be done in three weeks), Ms Martin, visibly annoyed, said: “it can’t be done in three weeks, it could take until the end of the year.”

This didn’t go down too well with Councillors several of whom suggested it was simple enough matter which could be sorted with two or three special meetings.

The CEO’s blood was boiling by this time. “I will not be talked to like this by Councillors!” she trilled. “I do not accept that these are simple matters. I will commit to tackling the issues, but not in three weeks!”

Eventually the motion proposed by Cllr. Saurin (or was it Cllr. Bell?), was put to the floor and the bye-laws were adopted with a view to alterations being made by way of amendments in the future.

Mayor Godfrey’s baptism of fire was over and the councillors could all go out to the front step and have their photos taken.

Phew, everyone up to Scholars for a pint - quick!

This article was written by Andy Spearman

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