Bid for free city parking rejected

By John Cousins

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A 3600-signature petition supporting free parking has failed to persuade the city council to axe parking charges in Tauranga's downtown.

The council instead decided to press ahead with its plan to abolish parking time limits throughout the CBD but retain charges.

It comes as the commercial heart of Tauranga continues to struggle against the retail might of malls and suburban shopping centres where parking is free.

Yesterday's council meeting voted 6-3 to for a scheme that will allow people to park for as long as they had the money to pay; removing the common frustration of people having to rush back to shift their cars.

Petition organiser downtown retailer Bill Campbell, told the Bay of Plenty Times after the meeting that he was gutted that the council had gone against strong public opinion.

"Most people say they would shop in the city centre more often if the parking was free," he said. A separate survey of business owners and managers saw 291 agree with Mr Campbell's question: "Do you believe free, monitored parking with reasonable time limits would encourage more people to visit the CBD."

Virtually the same question was asked in the public petition.

Council transport operations manager Martin Parkes told councillors that the way the petition was worded had skewed the result.

"As soon as you use the word 'free' people support it, but there are implications," he said.

He was referring to the costs that needed to be be recovered to avoid the parking operation becoming a burden on ratepayers. Mr Campbell was asked how much adding the rating implication to his petition question would have changed the outcome.

He said if splitting the costs resulted in a tiny amount per ratepayer, then most people may not have minded.

Councillor Murray Guy opposed the council's direction on parking, saying that Mainstreet Tauranga had told him it would have preferred free parking but after discussions with staff and the council it realised it was in a no-win situation.

He said Mr Campbell's survey of business owners and managers clearly showed Mainstreet had not consulted its members.

Mayor Stuart Crosby reminded the council that it was voting on abolishing time limits, not free parking. If the vote was lost it would result in keeping time zones that people did not want.

Yesterday's decision takes effect on July 1 and sees the downtown split into three pricing zones. Parking charges in the retail core increase by $1 to $3 an hour. There would still be a few high turnover 15-minutes parks such as those outside the PostShop.

Most of the downtown stays at $2 an hour. The outer rim of 2nd Ave, Cameron Rd, Hamilton St and Harrington St reduces to $1 an hour. The inner core was the extended block of Grey St/Willow St and the The Strand/Devonport Rd, between Elizabeth St and Hamilton St.

Opposing were councillors Tony Christiansen and Catherine Stewart. Councillors supporting were Larry Baldock, Rick Curach, Bill Grainger, David Stewart and Terry Molloy. Absent were Bill Faulkner and Wayne Moultrie.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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