The car park under attack from DOI and Douglas Council
The car park under attack from DOI and Douglas Council Credit: Barry Murphy

In a possible blow to the cost and availability of parking in Douglas, the Isle of Man Government’s Department of Infrastructure (DOI) and Douglas Borough Council are both trying to reduce the amount of parking available in our town by objecting to a local planning application to allow a car park to remain.

The site in question at 37-41 Circular Road has been used as a car park with 14 spaces for more than ten years, with few apparent problems. Even the DOI admits “In terms of road safety, network efficiency, the continued use of the site as a relatively small car park is insignificant.” They further admit, “The proposed layout is satisfactory.”

The planning application says that the owners want to develop the site, but the current property market conditions make it uneconomical at the current time.

However, despite admitting that there are no direct problems caused by the continued use of the site as a car park, DOI have determined that they want to discourage people driving into Douglas. It is likely that removing the car park will reduce the car parking available for the area, causing increased costs by motorists – and thus, achieve the DOI’s goal of “reducing car based travel into Douglas”.

Douglas Borough Council has supported the DOI in trying to remove the car park. At a meeting of Douglas Borough Council’s Environmental Services Committee held on 15 March, Councillors McNicholl, Byron, Bentley, Horning, and Thommeny collectively agreed to object to the site remaining as a car park.

Removing car park will increase parking congestion

Reducing the supply of car parking in the area will push commuters elsewhere, as intended by DOI and Douglas Borough Council. Some commuters may choose to park on local streets, causing further inconvenience and hassle for local residents. In addition, reducing the supply of car parking will likely lead to pressure to increase costs for the remaining parking spaces in the area. Such inconvenience and cost pressures will help the DOI and Douglas Borough Council to achieve their goals.

On hearing that the car park will be removed, local Circular Road office worker, Katie, said, “At lunch, it is [already] impossible to get a space. I don’t think it’s a good idea reducing the number of spaces there!”

A local resident, Charles, highlighted that with a combination of an aging Manx population, our sometimes inclement marine environment, and the hilly topography of Douglas, car parking is important to allow people from across the island to access Douglas. Charles said, “You are not going to have a 70 Plus year old cycling into Douglas from, say, Ballaquark, to undertake their shopping by bike or bus. The DOI one day need to engage with reality of the economic world and not a utopian planning world of Milton Keynes on the last century where everyone lives in or within flat walking or easy cycle ride of the town centre.”

Banning car parking won’t encourage development

In their objection, Douglas Borough Council mistakenly claim, “The Council is of the opinion that if the application is approved for the continued use of the land as a carpark that this will do nothing to encourage the owner to develop the site.”

One Manx resident said, “Clearly this is nonsense as if the owner/ developer had any sort of development opportunity he would already have taken it, and if no such opportunity exists the only revenue making opportunity for the site is as a temporary car park.”

Site is “discreet”

As part of the planning application, architect Barry Murphy said, “The parking is discreet without causing additional disruption to the street scene. The use of the park since & prior to 2010 has not caused any issues in respect traffic management (sic).”

The site owners previously had long-term plans to develop the site into a more profitable use than merely space for 14 cars to park. In the 2000s, Murphy reports that the site managers had hoped to develop the site in conjunction with 35 Circular Road (Ashcrofts), but Ashcrofts “didn’t come onto the market for sale in the timescale expected and the development plans paused.” Subsequent changes to the property market make the site “currently unviable to develop as intended,” according to Murphy.

The car park under attack from DOI and Douglas Council
The car park under attack from DOI and Douglas Council Credit: Barry Murphy

Hearing is Monday, MHK Perkins to Chair

The planning committee hearing is scheduled to be held this Monday, 26 April, 2021. The hearing was initially planned to be held at Murray House, Mount Havelock, Douglas, but due to the current Coronavirus outbreak, on Wednesday 21 April, the meeting was switched to an online meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to be chaired by Martyn Perkins, a politician representing the constituency of Garff. Garff covers the north-eastern corner of the island between Onchan and Ramsey, centered on Laxey.

As a politician, Mr Perkins is allowed to park in a special car park in central Douglas made available to members of Tynwald, which they must pay for. It is unclear at this stage whether he will support the combined effort of the Department of Infrastructure and Douglas Borough Council to remove the car parking of citizen commuters to central Douglas.

Who supported reducing car-based travel to Douglas from Ayre, Michael, Onchan and Laxey?

The DOI claims that allowing the car park to remain “runs contrary to current policy in terms of sustainable travel, reducing car based travel into Douglas, especially for the purposes of commuting.” Neither the Minister for Infrastructure, Tim Baker MHK, nor the Political Member of the Department of Infrastructure with responsibility for planning, Martyn Perkins MHK, revealed plans in their manifestos to reduce car-based travel into Douglas when seeking votes at the last Isle of Man election. Many of their constituents in Ayre, Michael, Onchan and Laxey may be surprised to learn that they voted for candidates who appear to be implementing a policy of making it harder to drive to Douglas and park.

Source Documents

The full planning application, including comments from the applicant (seeking to continue the use as a car park), the Department of Infrastructure, and Douglas Borough Council are available online here.

The Department of Infrastructure’s objection to the car park continuing
The Minutes of the Douglas Borough Council Environmental Services Committee of 15 March, 2021

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