Dismay at DoI plans to cut costs and raise revenue

John Shakespeare

John Shakespeare

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A raft of cash-raising proposals by the government has been met with dismay from island businesses and a charity.

Money-generating measures suggested in the Department of Infrastructure consultation document issued this week include charges for on-street parking in Douglas, residents’ car parking charges, changes to pensioners’ concessionary bus travel and charging pupils on school buses.

Strand Shopping Centre manager John Shakespeare said parking charges, if implemented, would be another blow for town centre retailers.

Mr Shakespeare said while foot fall was increasing again after the major road works on Peel Road, regeneration work on Strand Street had seen a 35 per cent drop in trade for some retailers.

‘Another obstacle like this is the last thing we need now,’ he said.

Sunday parking charges in town centre multi-storeys were implemented, he said, despite an online petition organised by the Strand Centre, Douglas Development Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce.

More consultation is needed before any decisions are made.

He said: ‘If they don’t speak to us how can we give ideas? We feel this is inappropriate. It’s not that we are totally against it but we have to get through regeneration first and we have to build more car parking space.

‘Retail growth at the moment is still vulnerable and UK studies have already shown how it can benefit from cheap or free on-street parking.’

He said many other factors also needed consideration, such as the 62 per cent weekend occupancy rate for Chester Street car park and how charging would be implemented during TT and late night Christmas shopping.

George Quayle, of the old people’s charity Age Isle of Man, said the bus passes were vital for many old people who relied on them as a lifeline for getting out and about. He said it was unclear if changes to the system would achieve any significant savings for government.

South Douglas MHK David Cretney, the government member responsible for tourism, said he remained opposed to charges for parking on Douglas promenade and for residents parking near their homes.

He did not support the proposal, which was first mooted when he was Infrastructure Minister.

‘Suggestions were made to pay for residents’ parking and parking on the promenades and I fundamentally disagree with that,’ he said.

‘I think it would have a negative impact in terms of businesses in the town centre, some of which are fragile enough as it is.

‘I understand the position Mr Skelly is in. He has a lot of savings to find and this was always going to be a big issue.’

On the topic of residents’ parking, he added: ‘Though people are not automatically entitled to a space outside their houses, people feel if they are paying for road tax on their vehicles they should be able to park on the road. Road tax is expensive enough on its own, so I hope Mr Skelly will listen to comments on that.’

The DoI has to find £5 million savings over the next year and is seeking public comment on the suggestions made.

As well as parking charges in central Douglas, residents who live in a disc zone could see charges imposed for residents’ parking permits.

Other proposals include a flat fare of 50p for every school bus journey – which became free in 2000 – and a rise in the qualifying age for a bus pass.

Further restrictions could make them invalid for 5pm rush hour travel as well as the current morning peak time restrictions.

Other proposals up for discussion include carparking charges for all government employees, MHKs and MLCs who currently do not pay for parking while at work.

The consultation can be completed online at www.gov.im (paper copies available from the Welcome Centre at the Sea Terminal in Douglas) and the closing date is July 31.

The Manx government is making a series of cuts and increasing charges because of the effect of the changes to the VAT agreement with the UK, which cut its income by about one third.

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