The Boal Car Parking Dispute with Belfast City Airport Sums up what is so wrong with the NI Economy

Only in Northern Ireland could a situation be allowed to arise where a private car park operator using a purpose built multi story car park, to run a car parking business is found to be in breach of planning law and is to be shut down because it is the ‘wrong type’ of car parking.

Most ‘normal’ people in Northern Ireland think this decision is unfair, lacking in common sense, illogical, and goes against consumer interests.

Northern Ireland is part of the UK and is meant to be a liberal democracy, very much like our sister nations in England, Wales, Scotland and Republic of Ireland. Sadly we now have more in common with basket case nations such as Greece and Venezuela as a direct result of the continued rejection of free market economics by our elected political representatives who are in turn supported by our civil servants.

One of the hallmarks of the free market is the ability for spare economic capacity to be utilised in reaction to of increased demand for goods and services, this is a key part of how an nation achieves economic growth, something Northern Ireland has struggled to achieve for years. This week the OECD confirmed the Irish Republic achieved in 2014, 4.8% economic growth, Britain 2.6% and prior to this the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment confirmed that Northern Ireland achieved 1.6% during the same period. One does not need to be an Economist to recognise that something is going badly wrong in NI that we cannot achieve the same growth of the rest of the UK and are unable to come anywhere close to the performance of a neighbouring nation to which we are physically attached and is our closest trading partner.

Only last week Gerry Adams was on TV arguing that Northern Ireland is a special case and deserves greater welfare benefits compared with the rest of the UK and Irish Republic. This view is nonsense, the key reason Northern Ireland fails to achieve real economic growth year after year, is due to the contempt, distrust and perceived threat of the private sector by the public sector which has resulted in the private strangled being strangled by red tape, excessive taxes such as business rates  as well as the continued support of protected industries by politicians who are in turn heavily influenced by lobbyists.

Take the Boal Parking case, a business set up four years ago, in the case by an entrepreneur who notices that Belfast City Airport is abusing its monopoly positon and charging extortionate fees for use of its car parking services to customers of the Airlines. Boal manages to strike a deal with Ikea to utilise the underutilised top floor of its car park to provide an cheaper alternative for Northern Ireland consumers operating from a purpose built multi storey car parking facility. The business is successful and there is sufficient demand for it to trade, economic activity is  created resulting in the creation of local employment, taxes, business rates and ultimately an increased number of airport passengers, life is good for the consumer and the Northern Ireland economy.

Belfast City Airport however feels aggrieved and throws everything it has at its disposal to have the business shut down so it can protect its monopoly position. The one thing the airport does not do is cut its pricing to become more competitive and undercut Boal. It eventually finds a planning loophole that confirms that the ‘original’ car park planning permission was for ‘ancillary parking’ to a retail store and not ‘the trade’ of operating a car park in its own right. The planners and politicians come down in favour of the airport and give notice that Boal parking must be shut down. Meanwhile across Northern Ireland, Shopping Centres and councils are erecting car park barriers and installing payment machines in car parks that are also ‘ancillary’ to retail and ‘office’ trades  i.e. establishing ‘car parking’ trades that generate significant revenue for their property investment businesses, in most cases without any revisions to existing planning permissions and not a word is said by anybody. The only beneficiary I can see in the Boal car parking dispute is Dublin Airport who are much cheaper not only for car parking but flights, a great result for the DAA I feel.

For me this yet again highlights the problems that the private sector faces in moving their businesses forward as the public sector through a combination of self-preservation and incompetence, applies  layer upon layer of red tape and costs on private sector businesses creating economic conditions that the rest of the UK or ROI does not have to put up with and stalls our economic growth.

The people of Northern Ireland have frankly had enough of this nonsense. We deserve a government that functions in the interests of the Northern Ireland people.

Patrick Murdock is a dual qualified Chartered Surveyor and qualified Tax Advisor original from and currently in based Newry. An independent free thinking liberal at heart, prior to establishing his own specialist consultancy, Patrick has built a twenty year career working for a number of global advisory firms and continues to work across markets in the construction, property and final services industries and has considerable experience and practical knowledge of working day to day in the UK, Northern Ireland and ROI markets.