New twist in battle between airport and illegal car parks
THE years-long rivalry between Belfast International Airport and one of the illegal car parks which operates close to its terminal building took a bitter new twist yesterday.
It came as Karl Airport Parking - which has space for 1,200 cars at the Old Ballyrobin Road in Muckamore, five minutes from the main Aldergrove base - contacted 30,000 of its customers warning that it was being threatened with closure, and initiated a petition to keep it open.
And then Karl, which has been served with a number of official closure orders dating back nearly a decade, revealed that it was preparing a fresh planning application which, if approved, could finally make it legal for the first time since it opened in 2001.
That, in turn, prompted management at the International Airport to issue a hard-hitting statement warning that any change to planning policy to allow Karl to operate would be "met with immediate and robust legal action”.
A number of illegal operators, using fields or back yards as car parking areas and undercutting the fees at the International Airport, have been a blight on management at Aldergrove for decades.
They claim they offer convenience and competitively priced alternative for holidaymakers and business travellers, but because they are deemed illegal, it raises questions as to the legitimacy of insurance cover on minibuses ferrying passengers to and from the airport terminal.
Last month Karl Airport Parking, which employs 140 staff and whose shareholders include the respected Blackbourne family, sent an email to customers.
It said: "Our service is currently subject to a review by the planners which could result in closure, which would mean a reduction in parking places in the vicinity of Belfast International Airport, reducing choice for you and inevitably forcing up prices.
"The changes proposed by the planners would benefit only the overseas pension fund that owns Belfast International Airport. If Karl closes, local jobs will be lost, and Northern Ireland customers will be deprived of choice when parking at Belfast International."
And this week Karl insisted volume of use is evidence enough for them to press ahead with a fresh planning application to address the threat of closure.
A Karl spokesperson said: “The number of users we have is evidence of the need for a quality alternative to the existing car park services. We provide a service which is over and above a simple ‘park and ride’ offer.
"Our customers have always commented on the quality and reliability of our service, whereby the bus will collect you from your car as you park in our secure surroundings before delivering you to the terminal door. That is what customers have experienced since 2009 and we want to remove any question mark over planning, so customers can continue to make use of our service.”
The statement added: “Why should the airport have a monopoly on parking cars for its users? Competition keeps everyone on their toes, ensures customers get good service and keeps prices down. Who is afraid of that?
"It is ludicrous that as things stand we are able to park cars at Karl Business Park for any reason whatsoever except for those who are users of Belfast International Airport. We're confident that the elected representatives in Antrim and Newtownabbey Council will agree.”
But last night Aldergrove's commercial development director Brian Carlin told the Irish News: “These unauthorised operations have a significant adverse impact on our ability to develop new routes as they limit the sums we can invest not only from a South Antrim perspective but for the whole of Northern Ireland.
“Belfast International already competes with multiple authorised and established car parks which operate in close proximity to the terminal building. All of our car parks fully comply with relevant planning policies and, not surprisingly, the airport believes that it only fair than all other operators do the same.
“The car park in question continues to flout the law by remaining open for business even though it was served with a Stop Notice. It’s time this notice was enforced by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
“There is a clear planning policy in place and any attempt to amend it will be met with immediate and robust legal action.”