Public pressure has forced the Tauranga City Council into a U-turn on its unpopular decision to hike parking charges to $3 an hour in the heart of the downtown.
Mayor Stuart Crosby used last night's mayoral candidates' forum to announce the change, in which the cost of parking in the downtown's main shopping streets will revert to $2 an hour.
It took little more than two months for retailers and shoppers to persuade the council to axe the increase, with the decision coming only a fortnight before council voting papers start arriving in mailboxes.
Other changes being considered by the council included free parking for the first hour in the downtown's parking buildings and free on-street parking without restrictions later in the afternoon when patronage fell off.
Mr Crosby did not spell out the changes at the public meeting, at which six candidates answered questions from the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce and some of the 160 people who attended the forum, held in Holy Trinity Church.
He simply announced the council was changing parking rules, adding it would not be the silver bullet for the downtown.
Mr Crosby said afterwards the reduction to $2 an hour followed a meeting with Tauranga Mainstreet last week, where feedback from retailers and customers was received.
The change will take effect on Monday, September 23.
The original decision to increase charges to $3 an hour in the retail core was justified by the decision to abolish time limits throughout the CBD. The higher charge was meant to be a disincentive for people to park up and hog high turnover carparks.
Mr Crosby said there was a unanimous consensus for the change from an informal meeting of the council. He said the council gave itself a 50 per cent price flexibility when it agreed to the $1 an hour increase earlier this year.
It meant the council could reduce the parking fee back to $2 without consulting the community. "We can just do it. We always said we would monitor it, and if it was causing problems we would review it."
The announcement was made in response to a question about what candidates would do to rejuvenate the city centre.
Hori Leaming said he would get rid of parking fees, calling $3 "over the top". People were shopping in malls rather than risk getting harassed by parking staff.
Kelvin Clout said some sort of parity was needed for parking across the city. John Robson said the council needed to accept the reality that traditional city retail centres were dead.
However, Richard Moore said the CBD could not be allowed to die. He advocated festivals as the way to get people back into the city centre and enjoying themselves. Free parking for the first hour made sense.
Mike Baker said the council had allowed a huge number of peripheral shopping centres and it would be a real battle to get back to having a strong CBD.
Mr Crosby said the combination of reducing charges to $2 an hour and the 10 minutes' grace time parking wardens gave motorists after they had chalked their tyre effectively meant that shoppers could park for 25 minutes in the downtown for 50c.
The public would also be educated that they could move their cars around the $2 parking zone on the same pay and display ticket.