Parking Fines: Blue coats join red coats in parking enforcement

Now blue coat parking attendants will be responsible for off-street public parking in parts of Northern Ireland
Now blue coat parking attendants will be responsible for off-street public parking in parts of Northern Ireland [Mid Ulster Council]

Changes in how to pay for some parking and who enforces fines have come into effect in parts of Northern Ireland this week.

Enforcement for on-street and off-street parking had been provided by red coat traffic attendants.

This was through an agreement between the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and local councils.

Now blue coat parking attendants will be responsible for off-street public parking in parts of Northern Ireland.

The change is happening because eight councils have entered a new enforcement contract for off-street parking with the company Marston (Holdings) Ltd.

It will also see the introduction of a new cashless parking system at some council-run pay and display car parks, although cash will still be accepted.

DfI retains responsibility for regulating on-street parking in Northern Ireland and those parking attendants will still wear red coats. The JustPark app will also still be used for on-street parking.

Marston Holdings core business is debt collection but it also has a parking enforcement division which operates under the NSL brand.

In February 2021, the company filed a legal claim when it did not win back a contract to carry out parking enforcement for Oxfordshire County Council.

Lawyers found "significant failings" in the council's procurement process. The authority paid more than £1.6m after it agreed to settle the case out of court and became liable for the legal costs of Marston Holdings Ltd.

Glena McDowell-Khan
Glena McDowell-Khan says there was not enough awareness or advertising around the changes [BBC]

Glena McDowell-Khan at the For You Charity Shop in Dungannon said the changes had caused a lot of confusion.

"It's going to be confusing for our customers, people coming into the town and who do you go to?

"Can you approach a red coat instead of a blue coat when you're in the car park?"

Ms McDowell-Khan said she only "stumbled across" the news of the change saying there had been "very little awareness or advertising around it".

Charlie Calderwood
Charlie Calderwood says there is a danger the changes could put people of coming into the town [BBC]

Charlie Calderwood at the Food Doc said a lot of customers had been asking about the changes.

"They would normally come in and ask you know 'how long have you got on the square there?' and things like that," he said.

"There will be a danger of people getting caught out and there will also be a danger of people just not coming into the town."

Sam Hall from Ballyclare
Sam Hall says he had not seen any signs about the changes [BBC]

In Belfast, Sam Hall from Ballyclare said the changes would make him think about favouring on-street parking.

"It is confusing, especially because I haven't heard anything about it and I haven't seen any signs about it," he said.

"It certainly feels a bit inconvenient anyway, I don't want to get caught out by any mistakes and have to pay a fine."

William and Paige McCoy
Paige McCoy had seen the signs about the changes as she works in Belfast City Centre [BBC]

Paige McCoy works nearby and had seen signs about changes prior to the switchover at a car park on Ormeau Avenue.

"I had the app downloaded already so it wasn't that confusing," she said.

"It would be easier if there was one app rather than running around the car park trying to figure out which app it is but once you've got it set up the first time you are okay."

Parking tickets

Figures published by DfI show that there were more than 690,000 parking offences in Northern Ireland between January 2018 and September 2023.

More than 70% of these were for on-street parking and almost 30% were for off-street parking offences.

Changes to the enforcement of fines have come into effect in parts of Northern Ireland this week
Changes to the enforcement of fines have come into effect in parts of Northern Ireland this week [BBC]

DFI also confirmed to BBC News NI there had been more than £12m in revenue generated from fines for on-street parking and bus lane contraventions between April 2022 and December 2023.

DfI said it did not hold the figures for-off street parking fines as these would be held by individual councils.

The Lisburn Road in Belfast had the highest amount of on-street parking fines, with more than 10,000 between 2021 and 2023.

Meanwhile, DfI confirmed that there had been no parking fines issued in Coalisland between 2019 and 2023.

BBC News NI previously reported on controversy surrounding a lack of traffic enforcement in the County Tyrone town of Coalisland.

A spokesperson for DfI said: "Coalisland is not patrolled on a routine basis because there are very few parking restrictions in the town and experience demonstrates that when visited there has been no enforcement action required.

"Although Coalisland is not routinely patrolled by traffic attendants the department will continue to respond to requests for enforcement, when the need arises, or when requested and resources are available."

Which councils are involved?

The councils confirmed to be entering a new enforcement contract with Marston (Holdings) Ltd include:

  • Belfast

  • Ards and North Down

  • Derry City and Strabane

  • Fermanagh and Omagh

  • Newry, Mourne and Down

  • Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon

  • Lisburn and Castlereagh

  • Mid Ulster

A spokesperson for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said: "We are not involved in the changes and continue with our current arrangement".

BBC News NI has contacted Mid and East Antrim Council for a statement regarding their current parking enforcement arrangements.

In some council areas the changes were due to start on 1 April but were delayed because of Easter holidays, with the new enforcement beginning on 3 April.

The changes will also see the introduction of a new cashless parking system at some council-run pay and display car parks
The changes will also see the introduction of a new cashless parking system at some council-run pay and display car parks [BBC]

The new contract will also see the introduction of a cashless parking system at some pay and display car park through a new app.

For example in the Mid Ulster District Council area, the Just Park app will be replaced by the RingGo app.

Speaking to BBC News NI's Good Morning Ulster, Karen McShane, president of the Chartered Institute for Highways and Transportation, said consumers should be aware of issues with some app-based parking systems placing a holding fee on cards.

"It works the same way when you go to a hotel you leave your credit card with a holding fee. You will only actually get charged for the time that you park, but it could be seven days before you get that money back.

"If you are a regular parker every day, those holding charges will be held on your card," she added.

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council said: "The main change for car park users is that parking attendants will wear a blue uniform, but their responsibilities and legal authority will remain the same and any Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) issued will be valid."