Report on the Off-Street Parking (Functions of District Councils) Bill

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 08 December 2014

Reference: NIA 214/11-16

ISBN: 978-0-339-60549-7

Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/16 Sixth Report

10885.pdf (42.39 mb)

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Executive Summary

1. The Off-street Parking (Functions of District Councils) Bill was introduced in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 13th October 2014 was referred to the Committee for Regional Development the Committee/CRD) for consideration on completion of the Second Stage of the Bill on 21st October 2014

2. Sign posts were placed in the Committee web page, the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News and the Newsletter inviting written submissions. The Committee also received copies of the written responses to the Department for Regional Development (the Department/DRD) consultation exercise. Following receipt of written submissions, the Committee invited the following organisations to provide oral evidence:

Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council;

Belfast City Council;

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council;

Mid and East Antrim District Council;

Mid Ulster District Council;

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA);

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA); and

The Department for Regional Development (DRD)

3. In order to facilitate the Minister’s request that the Committee Stage of the Bill be conducted within the statutory period defined by Standing Order 33(2), oral evidence sessions were held on 12th, 19th and 26th November 2014, which included a site visit to examine the condition of car parks in Enniskillen.

4. Whilst the Committee supports the principle of the Bill, Members have expressed reservations with regards to the scheme of transfer. The Committee will be seeking assurances from the Minister and his Executive colleagues in respect of these concerns, which include protection of the assets transferring, financial top-slicing, the condition of car parks being transferred, communication and provision of information and the principle of rates neutrality.

5. Members are also highly critical of the Minister and his official’s non-cooperation with the Committee with regards to the turn-around of papers and information during the course of the Committee, particularly as the Minister had requested passage through the Committee Stage within 30 days to allow his Department to seek Royal Assent before the transfer date of 1st April 2015.

6. Recommendations have been made in respect of all these areas.

Summary of Recommendations

7. The Committee would respectively make the following recommendations:

8. The Committee wishes to ensure that stringent protection is applied through other sources. In that respect, the Committee seeks clarification as to the means and responsibility for the transfer of car parks under Section 122 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 (paragraph 34).

9. The Committee further seeks a strong assurance from the Minister and/or his relevant Executive colleague(s) that the respective scheme of transfer is amended to include a reference to existing planning policies on replacement of car parking spaces to ensure that where car park spaces are used for local regeneration, spaces should be replaced either by a more efficient car parking arrangement or in another location that is conveniently located to the Primary Retail Core (paragraphs 28 – 35 inclusive).

10. The Committee recommends that the Minister, following consultation with his Executive colleagues in the Department for Finance and Personnel and the Department of the Environment, ensures that the transfer of all functions remains rates neutral not just at the point of transfer but also for the foreseeable future, subject to any changes in car parking charges and PCN’S tariffs implemented by respective local authorities (paragraphs 36 – 38 inclusive).

11. The Committee seeks an assurance from the Minister for Regional Development that all car parks will be brought up to an acceptable specification and standard, preferably in advance of the point of transfer. Where this is not possible, the Minister should provide the Committee and the relevant local authorities with a timeline for the upgrading of car parks to a specification and standard that that is acceptable to local authorities (paragraphs 39 – 42 inclusive).

12. The Committee recommends that all relevant financial, legal and other relevant information is communicated to all local authorities as a matter of urgency. The Committee would also ask that the Department further coordinate and communicate a “satisfaction survey” with local authorities in advance of the point of transfer to allow the Committee and local authorities to gauge if all relevant information has been satisfactorily transferred (paragraphs 43 – 47 inclusive).

13. The Committee would strongly recommend that the Department honours the commitments the Minister makes in respect of officials working with the Committee. The Committee would also emphasise that it is for the Committee to decide and define the Committee Stage of Bills and that the Department should not attempt to corner the Committee into a timeframe that does not allow it to properly and appropriately undertake its statutory responsibilities with regards to the scrutiny of primary legislation (paragraphs 48 – 51 inclusive).

14. The Committee would respectively advise the Minister and his officials that they may wish to progress the Executive elements of future Bills accordingly (paragraphs 48 – 52 inclusive).

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