Mixed reaction to Slieve Gullion park-and-ride service 

July 20, 2015

The most recent attempts by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to alleviate parking difficulties at Slieve Gullion Courtyard have been given a mixed reaction by visitors to the popular attraction.

Last week the Council initiated a Park-and-Ride service, operating from Meigh village to the Forest Park.  Visitors are required to park their vehicle at Johnny Murphy’s car park in Meigh and travel on the shuttle bus for the nominal return fare of £1.00 per person.  The service operates daily between 12 noon and 5pm.

Announcing the service, Council Chairperson Naomi Bailie said the Council is thrilled with the huge number of visitors to Slieve Gullion and encouraged people to use the shuttle bus. “To maximise the visitor experience and assist with visitor parking, which is on many occasions at capacity due to the sheer number of people visiting, Council is providing a daily Park and Ride facility over the summer which we hope people will avail of.  The Council would like to thank Johnny Murphy’s Meigh for helping facilitate this provision through use of their car park,” she said.

However, the move has had a mixed reaction with some parents of young children describing it as impractical for families juggling small children, some of whom use pushchairs.

One disappointed parent posted on the Council’s social media page that she was put off using the service owing to long queues of people waiting to get on the bus.

“We decided that it wasn’t a feasible option for us with 3 children and a buggy.  We had extremely disappointed children and two annoyed parents.  The problem needs to be addressed, not with this standard of Park and Ride,” the post read.

While another visitor complained that adults and children were made to stand on an overcrowded bus leaving the facility in a bid “to get as many people moved as possible”, adding that she would “think again” about returning.

The Examiner understands that visitors can still access the facility in their own vehicle  “until all spaces are utilized”, after which they can enter only by using the Park and Ride system.  It has been reported by a resident of the area who posted on the Council facebook page that the limited parking spaces fill up quite early in the day and the introduction of the shuttle bus service has only exacerbated the ongoing problem: “Queues of traffic are sitting on the Forkhill Road in both directions trying to get in. People are avoiding using the Park and Ride and just abandoning their cars on the main road and on the side roads, causing havoc for local residents. The Park and Ride bus is running with a small number of passengers. Nothing has changed much around here since Easter except for a sign inside the exit gate and the provision of a bus that people dont want to use! Thanks for that NM&DDC. The only other thing that’s changed is that we now have to deal with busses  along with hundreds of cars on the narrow corners of Wood Road!!”

Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson for the Council said the Park and Ride facility has been introduced to help minimize the impact of high visitor numbers on residents living close to Slieve Gullion and has asked visitors “where possible” to use the service.

“Slieve Gullion Forest Park has experienced an unprecedented number of visitors, which is testament to the wonderful facilities on offer.  The Council received numerous complaints regarding the long duration visitors spend queuing to access the park when a space became available, were forced to abandon a visit to the park due to the long wait on a parking space or parking in an unsafe manner outside the Forest Park.  The unregulated parking along the forest drive was creating both a potential health and safety concern with restricted access for any emergency services and difficulties for delivery vehicles.

“In considering how to address the problem, Council introduced a Park & Ride facility to assist visitors with their experience to the Park.  The Council are very pleased that Slieve Gullion Forest Park has proven to be so successful and attracting a huge number of visitors into the Ring of Gullion.  The Council by introducing the Park & Ride facility, are seeking to enhance the visitor experience and assist in minimising the impact on local residents.

“The car park is open until all spaces are fully utilised, only when the car park is full are visitors required to use the Park & Ride facility if they wish to visit the Park.  For visitors only wishing to use the Forest Drive, access will be provided.

“Council officials have been seeking the view of Park and Ride users and the feedback is very positive.  This feedback will continue to be monitored.”

In relation to claims of illegal parking on access roads, the Council says it is not responsible for enforcing “how and where people park on the public road” and have raised the matter with the PSNI.

“The Council will continue to review the parking arrangements and work with the other agencies that have responsibility for some of the issues that are arising at the facility.   The Council are continuing to investigate solutions to meet the parking demands of the Park as we go forward,” the statement concluded.