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Open Championship 2019: Portrush businesses hit out at car park closure

By Michael Fitzpatrick
BBC News NI North-East Reporter

image captionThe car park will be used for coach parking for the golfing tournament in July

Small business owners in Portrush have said the closure of one of the town's largest car parks is having a detrimental impact on their trade.

The 240-space Dunluce Avenue car park is being refurbished in preparation for golf's Open Championship.

It will be used for coach parking for the tournament in July and is closed until the spring while resurfacing work is carried out.

Part of the car park has been out of use since November.

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A full closure was implemented last week to allow minor works to take place.

image copyrightPA
image captionThe Open is returning to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951

Works have also been taking place in the town at the same time as the £5.5m redevelopment of Portrush train station.

William McKittrick, owner of the Panky Doos café on nearby Eglinton Street, says he has lost hundreds of customers because of the ongoing construction work.

image captionWilliam McKittrick said he could not soak up the loss in business

"I have elderly customers and customers in wheelchairs who have cancelled bookings, maybe afternoon tea bookings, who are scared saying we can't get car parking in the town," he said.

"Between my first winter here and my second winter I saw an increase of nearly 60% and this winter I've seen a decrease of almost the same figure.

"It's a small business so I cannot soak up that kind of loss," he added.

"The only thing I can foresee is either struggling on the way we are, basically paying guys when I can get money or we have to close it down. It is as simple as that."

image captionKnox Cantley has called for rates relief to be extended to businesses affected by the closure

Knox Cantley, the owner of the Spar supermarket and Mauds ice cream parlour, claimed the disruption was also impacting his business.

"We are seeing a steady drop off, probably upwards of 20% down on last year and it's heading the wrong way from here on with the complete closure of the car park," he said.

He said he would normally expect a lot of people on day trips, parking their cars and taking a walk past the shop.

"We are not seeing any of that," he added.

image captionThe work is likely to finish in March or April

Both Mr McKittrick and Mr Cantley called for rates relief to be extended to businesses affected by the closure of the car park.

Another business owner, who did not want to be interviewed, said takings were down about 50% as a result of the closure.

Some traders have questioned why work could not have been carried out in two separate phases allowing half of the spaces to remain open.

image captionA councillor said a full closure of the car park was the only option

Causeway Coast and Glens councillor Norman Hillis, who is also a retailer in Portrush, said the council considered that option but were forced to go ahead with a full closure because of health and safety concerns.

"I can absolutely sympathise," the Ulster Unionist councillor said.

"As a trader myself, it's tough here in the winter and I suppose for people who are located quite near a car park and for that car park to be closed, it does have an impact.

image captionCouncillor Norman Hillis said the car park needed refurbishment regardless of whether or not The Open was coming

"The trouble is the car park needed repaired, part of it is to do with reconfiguration for The Open but it's not all about The Open.

"Regardless of whether The Open was going to be here, there was going to have to be a major refurbishment of the car park.

"The alternative was do it or don't do it and the council, which represents a large area, and 40 forty councillors decided to invest the best part of £300,000 to repair the car park," he said.

"It's really regrettable that it is impacting but the only good thing I can say is the work started in November, it's going to be finished in March.

"We are now mid-January, we don't have too much further to go."

'Minimal disruption'

The local authority's director of leisure and development, Richard Baker, said the long term gain from the event would be huge despite some short-term pain.

"We want to make sure Portrush is not just fit for purpose but really exceeds the expectations of all the visitors coming to the area," he said.

"The programme requires that car park to be closed for seven weeks.

"It will be closed for that seven-week period but we've got to understand there's alternative car parking provided 200 metres away.

"We are also doing this work during probably the quietest period of the year, which is January and February, so I think the disruption is minimal."

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