As of Wednesday, all affordable, long-term car parks at Dublin Airport were sold out for a three-day booking over the Easter weekend and the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) was warning that the remaining, more expensive spots were on course to be sold out by Friday until the middle of next week.

On several occasions last year, particularly during bank holiday periods, the summer holiday season and high-profile sporting weekends, the DAA issued warnings of limited airport parking spaces.

It has also come under fire in recent years for escalating costs of parking during periods of high demand, associated with tight availability of spaces in both its short- and long-term parking offerings.

The issue of parking at Dublin Airport came to the fore again last week when the Consumer and Competition Protection Commission blocked the DAA from purchasing a disused QuickPark in the neighbouring suburb of Santry.

When a door closes, a window opens, at least for hotels in the vicinity of the airport, with many taking advantage of the situation to push their short and long-term parking options with park-and-fly shuttle services directly to terminals without the requirement of hotel stays.

This includes the most recent addition, the Holiday Inn Hotel that opened in 2021 in Swords, just 3.5 kilometres from the airport. It is owned by Carra Shore Hotel (Dublin) Limited, part of the JMK Group of hospitality and property companies controlled by the Kajani family in the UK and Ireland. The hotel offers park-and-fly services from its 248-space car park, charging €10 per day with an eight-minute shuttle ride to the airport.

However, this system has now hit a snag. Hotels are restricted by conditions attached to their planning permission imposed by Fingal County Council that explicitly stipulate parking spaces are to be used solely for guests and not for general airport parking.

Last December, in a bid to regularise the process, Carra applied for retention permission to use the car park in this manner for the next five years. It was refused permission by the local authority last month.

Not in line with planning conditions

The council said that the use of the car park for airport parking would be in breach of the condition attached to its planning permission for use only by people staying at the hotel.

The local authority also found that it would attract non-hotel-related private car traffic to the area and would be contrary to policy goals in the council’s development plan to maximise the use of public transport and sustainable transport modes for airport access.

Carra has now appealed the decision, according to new files lodged with An Bord Pleanála last week, a case other airport hotels offering similar services will be watching closely.

In a submission to the planning board, prepared by the planning consultant John Spain Associates, the company argued that the car park is not in use for guests, as the hotel is currently being used as an accommodation centre for asylum seekers.

In February 2022, after just seven months in operation, the 421-bedroom hotel shut its doors to the general public to operate instead as an accommodation centre.

The company has an agreement with the Government to lease the premises for use as emergency accommodation until 2025. It argued that five-year temporary parking permission is appropriate as this agreement may be extended.

Once the hotel is no longer used as temporary emergency accommodation, the hotel plans to return the car park to normal use for hotel guests, it said.

A fully electric bus is used to shuttle passengers from the hotel to the airport. Photo: Cityswift

It also argued that the use of the parking lot in this manner is consistent with a policy in the council’s development plan to support the provision of park-and-ride facilities for the airport until improvements to public transport infrastructure in the area are delivered.

Given the significant demand for airport parking and rising passenger numbers, now almost 32 million per year, the company argued that “there is a short-term need for additional airport car parking in suitable locations such as the subject site”.

It also argued that the use of its parking capacity helps reduce congestion at the airport junction from passenger vehicles looking to park at the airport. The shuttle bus used by the hotel is also electric, adding to the sustainability credentials of the option, the company said.

“Passenger parking at Holiday Inn Dublin Airport not only strategically intercepts traffic, reduces congestion at key junctions, and utilizes existing trips but also fosters healthy competition, providing travellers with more choices and contributing to the overall efficiency of the airport infrastructure,” it said. The case is due to be decided by mid-July this year.

DAA plans to increase parking stalled

The DAA owns and operates three short-term car parks and four long-term car parks at Dublin Airport. In total, it provides 22,951 public car parking spaces, just over 19,019 of which are located in long-term car parks.

It is looking to expand its footprint, outlining its intention last March to acquire control of the freehold interest in a 41-acre site on the Swords Road, one kilometre from the airport. The site, owned by developer Gerry Gannon, was previously leased to a third party under the QuickPark brand and used as a 6,122-space car park until its closure in 2019.

This deal, however, was blocked by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) after an in-depth investigation. The DAA currently holds a dominant market share, accounting for nearly 75 per cent of parking spaces in the vicinity of the airport. The CCPC found that the acquisition would “eliminate” competition in this market by giving the DAA “control over 90 per cent of the car parking spaces serving Dublin Airport”.

The CCPC specifically addressed the role of neighbouring hotels’ car parks in the market, concluding: “Although there are six hotels which provide car parking to airport passengers, these car parks are very small in comparison, with five of the six having a share of approximately one per cent each.”

The DAA is considering all options following the CCPC’s decision, including an appeal, its chief executive Kenny Jacobs said.