A group of SDLP councillors has described council proposals to increase car parking charges on the north coast as "detrimental" and "mad".
The hard-hitting statement was released in response to attempts to increase charges in tourism hotspots was defeated at Causeway Coast and Glens Council last week.
"As elected members, it is our job to encourage tourists to visit the north coast," the SDLP statement, released yesterday, said.
"Our tourism industry is the strongest growth sector we have. In economic downturn, it is the one area where we are enjoying significant success but there is potential for much more growth.
"It is our duty to seek to grow this revenue not stunt economic growth by dissuading visitors. Any plan to charge for car parking here would also necessitate gross improvement in public transport and ‘active travel’, such as our walking/cycling infrastructure.
"Our businesses pay the highest rates in the UK. Our marina fees have been increasing for consecutive years.
"Our businesses need respite. They need certainty and solutions to the disproportionate rates burden that they carry.
"We have listened to them and they are genuinely worried about these proposed charges.
"Moreover, many of our workers in our coastal areas are seasonal and on minimum wage. The impact on these local communities would be detrimental."
The group added that due consideration must be given to residents.
"It is especially mad to introduce such a scheme when no residents’ parking permit scheme is in place.
"We know that these can be fraught with difficulty and a fair scheme cannot be established overnight."
The statement added: "As elected representatives, we should also be promoting health and wellbeing, especially in the dawn of a new year.
"We ought to be encouraging our constituents to make the best of the outstanding natural resources that we are privileged to have on our doorsteps in this electoral area. Enforcing car parking charges at ideal locations for ‘time out’ and walks does nothing to encourage fitness or mindfulness.
"We don’t believe that Council’s consultation has been adequate."
The SDLP group added that representatives had been "flooded" by emails from concerned residents, businesses and community groups.
The added that hiking car parking charges would only result in a "negative return" for constituents.
"The charges are bad news for business, residents and tourists.”
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