CALLS to extend free parking in Bandon to two hours, in order to attract shoppers into the town centre while the main drainage works are being undertaken, have been shot down by Council officials.
At a recent meeting of Bandon Kinsale Municipal District, Cllr Gillian Coughlan (FF) raised the motion calling for the free parking period to be extended from 30 minutes to two hours, as she said that works on the water main and sewer network have seriously disrupted the commercial life of Bandon.
‘We know the works are essential and will benefit the town. However, I feel the businesses need a little bit of assistance to get through this tough time and we as a local authority should be doing all we can to help them,’ said Cllr Coughlan.
‘Right now I’m afraid that if we don’t assist the businesses that are open, we will see more businesses close. As a gesture to the business owners and residents, give shoppers extra time to browse and spend money or go have a cup of coffee. And people want convenience too,’ she said.
She added that retailers she has spoken to are resilient but are finding it hard to keep their doors open.
‘Right now if we don’t assist the businesses that are there, we will see more doors closing and down the line we will have very little of the character of Bandon left.’
Cllr Marie O’Sullivan (FG) supported the motion and said it’s very important to support the small businesses.
‘Small businesses everywhere are the heart of any town and they kept the country going during the recession and they were paying the rates and employing local people. From a moral point of view, we have a duty of care to the traders of Bandon,’ said Cllr O’Sullivan.
Cllr Sean O’Donovan (FF) said that this is what members of the Bandon Business Association (BBA) want having met them at their recent annual AGM.
‘On South Main Street alone there are 13 empty premises. They are very worried about some of the businesses coming up to Christmas and after it, that they won’t survive,’ said Cllr O’Donovan.
‘They feel that parking and parking fines are driving people out of the town centre when they can go to Clonakilty for example and have free parking,’ said Cllr O’Donovan.
‘There are also asking for the installation of parking machines that have reminders that you carry with you when parking.’
Senior executive engineer Charlie McCarthy said that existing machines would need to be replaced to facilitate this.
Cllr John O’Sullivan (FG) said in this day and age, particularly with rural villages and towns, they should be giving the businesses every support needed to ‘ride out the works’ which all councillors accepted have to be done.
‘The people carrying the can are the businesses as people decide to shop elsewhere, but the businesses still have to pay their rates and insurance,’ said Cllr O’Sullivan, who also called on initiatives to be brought in to ‘future proof’ businesses into Bandon.
‘If we lose our county towns or villages, they’re not going to come back and what will replace them is big out-of-town shopping centres.’
Cllr Alan Coleman (Ind) said that Bandon is going through a difficult time with the works being carried out and that it has reached the ‘tipping point.’
‘With so much work going on in the town it’s clear it is disrupting trade. Trade is hard to hold onto and we should support the small indigenous businesses,’ said Cllr Coleman.
‘I do believe it’s at a critical junction as it’s had the hardest 12 months of disruption that it ever faced.’
Council official Mac Dara O h-Ici acknowledged that Bandon has had a fair share of difficulties but stressed it is an ‘unique market town’ that offers shoppers a different experience.
He said that pay parking is not designed for profit but as a method of parking control. He said the 30 minutes allowance is designed to facililate the short term shopper and ensure a quick turnover of spaces in the town centre. He also pointed out that there are free car parking facilities at the Glasslyn Road and the rear of the Town Hall.
‘Interfering with the car parking for the short term gain won’t work and increasing the ‘free time’ to two hours would decrease the turnover time of on-street parking and result in the lesser availability of parking spaces for shoppers,’ said Mr O h-Ici.
However, Cllr Coughlan said she was very disappointed with the reply and said there is ‘disquiet and a sense of despair’ in the town unfortunately.
‘It takes a lot for me to say that Bandon is in dire straits and we need to show that we understand the situation. By not making an effort, we are being neglectful,’ she said.
‘This is a feasible suggestion and a short term solution – and we do this every Christmas – and why not give it a chance, it could be a boom to traders and if it fails let it fail.’
She said it is ‘the sense of barriers’ like traffic lights, roadworks and parking meters that is making it difficult for shoppers coming into town and it’s time to pause the pay parking.
‘Let’s make it as easy as possible and it’s not revolutionary and it’s not hard work. We have changed the goal posts in the past and I’m disappointed the answer is no.’