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Rates holiday ruled out for Cork traders impacted by city's controversial afternoon car ban

By Eoin English

A rates holiday has been ruled out for traders who say their business has been hit by the afternoon car ban on Cork’s St Patrick’s Street.

And while the new traffic system can be tweaked, it will not be scrapped until its impact has been fully assessed with the help of at least three months of data.

That was the message from City Hall ahead of what’s expected to be a large meeting of city centre traders tomorrow night to discuss what many have described as the city’s “traffic crisis”.

The head of the city’s transportation directorate, Gerry O’Beirne, said he is surprised at the backlash given there was little criticism of the three-month restrictions on the street last summer for upgrades.

But he said that if issues emerge, they will be addressed as they were last week when a package of parking incentives was introduced.

Read more on the latest developments in this story in tomorrow's Irish Examiner.

The latest developments come as under-fire Cork city officials faced a formal call to suspend the controversial ban.

Fianna Fáil councillor Ken O’Flynn broke ranks last night with his party and tabled a motion calling for the traffic initiative to be suspended in the immediate interests of “jobs, confidence, and the national image of Cork”.

The motion, which will be discussed at a full council meeting next Monday, emerged after a lengthy meeting of the council’s roads committee and ahead of a traders’ meeting on the issue tomorrow night.

The Fianna Fáil leader on the council, Terry Shannon, said the motion does not represent the view of his party’s members, who had agreed to wait until a full progress report is presented by officials to next Monday’s full council meeting.

He said officials were asked last night to consider a park and ride bus stop on the city’s main street to help offset the impact of the car ban, to consider a city centre shuttle bus service to boost footfall, and to extend the package of parking incentives.

Officials are also due to report back on the suggestions next Monday.

Earlier, several members of the council’s Fianna Fáil group went on a walk-about in the city and met traders to discuss the issue.

Mr Shannon said it is clear that traders need to be supported.

“I accept the concerns of traders. We have to listen to them and identify how do we mitigate the problems,” he said.

“I’m glad city management have introduced some of the parking initiatives that we, as councillors, have been calling for for some time.

“They appear to be working, but we need to be flexible, and consider extending them. The issue of a shuttle bus, and bringing the park and ride bus into St Patrick’s St were suggested last night.

“We must remain committed to traders, especially the family-owned, Cork-owned businesses.”

However, three weeks into the 3pm-6.30pm car ban, which is designed to improve bus journey times, controversy is still raging.

The Cork Business Association (CBA) wants the ban scrapped and has invited traders to attend a meeting in the city centre tomorrow night to discuss the issue.

City council chief executive Ann Doherty has asked for the car ban to be given three months to bed in and has introduced a parking incentives package to support traders. Cork Chamber also said it needs more time before its impact can be fully assessed.

The CBA said traders can not afford to wait three months, and has warned that jobs are now at risk.

The Green Party in Cork says that, despite the controversy, it still believes the afternoon car ban is the right thing to do.

The party’s representative in Cork North Central, Oliver Moran, said several “small fixes” could help, including fixing real-time bus information signs, extending the bike share scheme to the Black Ash park and ride, and the installation of more floral displays in the city.

Several ‘big picture’ suggestions also emerged following a public meeting it organised last week, including:

- A weekend-only car ban;

- Hiking parking charges in the suburbs to address the current bias towards suburban shopping centres;

- A waterbus from Horgan’s Quay to the Lower Harbour and shuttle bus service from the train station to St Patrick’s St.

The meeting also called for a retail strategy for the city centre, a grant scheme for conversion of over-shop floors to residential spaces, the elimination of charges for businesses with outdoor seating in compliance with planning, and a new bus ticketing system to allow multi-trip connection rides.