Tuesday, May 5, 2009

City Centre Parking

Above is a picture of John Roberts Square in the heart of Waterford City at 9am one morning last week. Personally I think it looks very well (and very clean) and when the trees come into leaf it will green up nicely. There are plans to hold evening and afernoon events here in the summer evenings to encourage more people to come into the city centre and extend the usage to after hour times. You can see work on the new Penneys in the background. I sincerely hope that the find of the ancient burials will be dealt with sensitively and swiftly and will not delay significantly the opening of the new store. This is 'the' best location in the city IMHO (in my humble opinion) and we cannot afford to have it closed for too long.

My point is that I do now know exactly what would be achieved by allowing cars to fill the square either driving through or parking.I think it would detract from our award winning street scape and, in fact make us a laughing stock. It would be a major retrograde step.

On the price of parking. I would love to have cheaper and even a good deal more free parking in the city but for two reasons that is not practical. The first reason is purely financial. The City cost about €62 million to run last year. The central grant from the exchequer is a bit less than €8 million. The difference must be made up from rates (by far the largest contributor), parking and development charges. I'm not even including bin charges as what we raise in those charges does not even cover the cost of the collection and disposal service itself.

Waterford City Council, no more than any other Council is not a 'for profit' organisation. It is run as a public service organisation for the benefit of the local community. That means providing everything from housing to libraries; clean water to waste disposal and everything in between. We need the revenue from the parking fees in order to cover those costs. We have recently introduced the new pay and display parking machines which make it easier for people to save money on parking as they can pay for a part of an hour as opposed to having to pay for a full hour even when only staying 20 minutes for example, as was the case with the scratch card system.

We will also shortly be introducing a Visual Messaging System which is a display system telling shoppers and visitors alike how much parking is available and where. This should improve the situation drastically especially for visitors who can be directed to car parks that they might previously not have been aware of.

The other reason there isn't free parking is that, if it were free, there would most likely be no spaces for the all important shopper as they would be taken up by workers in the city centre and there just isn't enough parking to facilitate everybody all day. We are trying to encourage workers to use public transport and leave the parking spaces free for shoppers. Although we have provided a long stay/low pay car park at Millers Marsh, where you can park all day for the price of two hours. This is a much used and appreciated facility.

An independent analysis of the parking spaces available in Waterford City Centre shows that Waterford has sufficient spaces on a par with International norms. This will change for a while, if and when the KRM project goes ahead and those spaces in Newgate Street are gone for a few years. This will need an interim solution. I know there is a perception that spaces are few and far between but I always park on The Mall (about a 2 minute walk from City Square) and have never had a problem getting a space - even on Saturday afternoons. And add to that, it is a pleasant walk past the Bishops Palace with its colourful flower displays.

The cost of parking in Waterford is also comparable with other cities (we're cheaper) and in fact the one-third of city parking that is provided by the City Council is priced the same as, or cheaper than that provided by the commercial car parks - which are run by and for retailers, be that City Square Car Park or the Quay.

I know that these are very difficult times and we can and will do everything we can to maintain Waterford as a strong shopping destination. But what the City really needs more than extra parking, more than cheaper parking is the availability of larger shops, the lessening of rental on city centre shops and the delivery of a big anchor destination like the proposed Newgate Centre to attract in shoppers, leading to a higher footfall for everyone in the centre. These, unfortunately are things over which the City Council has no real control. We can only facilitiate. And we have done so. I hope that the delays in the KRM planning have not cost Waterford that attraction. I hope that the developers can, in this development unfriendly environment, find the money and the tenants to proceed. That is what would really underpin the future of Waterford as a shopping destination.

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