UK drivers shun P for Ulster's Z

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The Independent Online
The annual one-upmanship of Britain's 1 August changeover of registration number prefixes is facing a new challenge from Northern Ireland.

The Swansea-based Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which has made pounds 200m from selling unusual and "timeless" numbers plates, now has competition from another agency.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland Agency (DVLNI), part of the Department of the Environment, has started to sell its own numbers, which carry unique combinations, including the letter Z, hitherto unavailable in Britain.

The Ulster plates are also timeless, unlike British registrations, where prefix letters change every summer, with "P" plates coming into operation this August. Many people in Britain buy special registrations to escape the annual change which dates their cars. So far, the Ulster agency has sold around 1,000 plates, 80 per cent of them to Britain. Sales by dealers in Ulster take the total figure to around 20,000 a year.

"We began selling this year and we believe that about 80 per cent of what we sell goes to Britain," said Brendon Magee, chief executive of the agency.

The DVLA reports that there has been no impact on sales yet. "Since our scheme started in 1990 it has made over pounds 210m and we have sold half- a-million numbers. Sales of P registrations so far have brought in approaching pounds 5m," said a spokesman.

Highest price in Ulster so far is pounds 19,000 for BIL 1, a modest amount compared to the record pounds 235,000 the DVLA received for KI NGS. But the Northern Ireland agency is banking on one number which could be its biggest seller. MIL 2000 is expected to attract a top price when millennium mania really takes off.