Charges to be abolished at Antrim and Causeway hospitals but motorists could face penalties

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Car parking charges at Antrim Hospital and Causeway Hospital in Coleraine cost patients and visitors £817k in 2022/23, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board has been told.

The Trust board has been considering the cost of scrapping parking charges in line with new legislation which comes into effect in May next year.

The Northern Trust is anticipating an initial £1m cost of reversing charges will be paid by the Department of Health with a further £874,005 cost expected in 2024/2025 and £953,475 in 2025/26.

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Speaking at a recent meeting of the Trust board, executive director Suzanne Pullins told members of the need to “protect parking for those who need it”.

Causeway Hospital. Pic courtesy of Northern Health and Social Care TrustCauseway Hospital. Pic courtesy of Northern Health and Social Care Trust
Causeway Hospital. Pic courtesy of Northern Health and Social Care Trust

She highlighted concern over the possibility of motorists using hospital car parks close to the motorway “for other reasons”. She stated both Antrim Hospital and Causeway Hospital could be affected in this way when free parking returns.

Commenting on the U-turn over hospital car parking charges, which she described as “revenue generating”, she said: “We are being forced to go down this road.”

In 2018/19, hospital car parks in Northern Ireland raised approximately £7.5m from charges but incurred running costs of £8.8m. The sum of £7.9m was collected in 2019/20.

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A report to Northern Trust board members says revenue generated from parking income is used to “recover all of the costs associated with the provision, management, maintenance and monitoring of hospital car parking spaces including barrier maintenance, pay machine maintenance, rates, resurfacing, re-lining, security, lighting, gritting etc”.

Antrim Hospital. Pic courtesy of Northern Health and Social Care TrustAntrim Hospital. Pic courtesy of Northern Health and Social Care Trust
Antrim Hospital. Pic courtesy of Northern Health and Social Care Trust

Providing Advice

The executive director went on to say an industry expert is providing advice to a regional working group established by the Department of Health on “pressured site parking”.

Fact-finding visits have taken place at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Royal Infirmary Hospital and Cardiff & Vale Hospital to “assess technology employed at UK locations with zero tariff policy” and the use of barrier control technology and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).

The report stated: “It is the intention of the regional group that all NI HSC Trusts will be operating the same arrangements aimed at having a consistent level of PCN (penalty charge notice) charging in place across all Trusts.

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The report also noted: “Our proposal at this point is that the existing paid for parking spaces which are located at main entrance/exits to our buildings, will continue to be protected for patient/visitor parking beyond 2024.

“Change will be required therefore as a result of the impact of this new legislation to ensure all car parks operate at optimum capacity for legitimate users of our car parks; and to deter persons from using HSC spaces for non-healthcare related visits.

“We will continue to require traffic management specialist contractor support to closely monitor parking on our sites and to issue PCNs for infringements. The Trust will require significant upgrade and extension of car parking infrastructure to comply with Hospital Parking Charges Act.”

Trust board chair Anne O’Reilly commented: “We are in a no-win situation.”

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Parking Space

Speaking in the Assembly in March 2022, then Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The prohibition of parking charges is not to be taken by a health and social care trust as the basis for reducing the amount of parking space to be provided at a hospital.

“Proper consideration needs to be given to what alternative arrangements need to be put in place to manage and control spaces in hospital car parks. Alternative parking management solutions will need to be carefully researched to establish how effective they would be at controlling the management of spaces, congestion and the cost implications.

“At present, there is not enough space to provide free parking for everyone, particularly at sites where space is limited, so sufficient time is required to put in place any necessary provisions to deal with capacity.

“The solution will need to take account of the urgent nature of many attendances and the capacity of all motorists to engage with the necessary technology. An enforcement process to clamp vehicles that are parked on site and not registered will also need to be developed.”

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However, he warned the Department is already facing a “substantial funding gap in its future years’ financial position, and, given existing financial commitments, the Department will need to identify funding to absorb the loss of revenue from the abolition of car parking charges”.

Most hospital car parking charges were abolished in Wales in 2008 and Scotland in 2009.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter