Ratepayers are being asked to pay for the "vibrancy" of Hastings city with the free parking trial being extended another four months.
At an extraordinary meeting this week, councillors heard that while it was very hard to link the free parking with increased retail spending recorded over recent months, there was definitely a "feel good" factor that added to the vibrancy in the city.
The initial trial was given the go ahead four months ago by the council when the city's Business Association asked councillors to look at such a trial.
The association put the request to council because it wanted to boost business trade in the city's centre.
Its general manager, Susan McDade, said at the time the prospect of one hour of free parking really resonated with the association's retail members and the trial would give it a much-needed boost in the prime retail season.
However, the trial has not proved as profitable as was hoped, with a subsequent Marketview report revealing that despite an overall increase in spending, it was a stretch to attribute it to the free parking.
"There are some initially positive figures for the free parking initiative in the report," regulatory services general manager John O'Shaughnessy said in his report to council.
"However, when we look into the findings a little more we see that the growth is strongest in hours outside of the initiative, at retailers with their own parking and by customers not directly affected by free parking.
"While we feel there may have been a small facet of spending increase directly attributed to free parking, we feel that the overall impact was minimal."
After the meeting, Ms McDade said city vibrancy was more important than the increase to business revenue.
"It is a very difficult time to have that trial, it was Christmas," she said. "We always knew that it wasn't going to be an overwhelming - you know you are not going to spend $50 more because you've got free parking.
"I think that more importantly what we were after was increased vibrancy in the CBD."
She said it was a harder sell to ratepayers, asking them to pay for such "vibrancy".
"But really we are not asking them to boost the CBD, we are asking them to improve the image and the brand of Hastings and that is a wider offer than just the CBD parking," she said.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said it was a surprise to him that the trial did not yield a spike in retail spending, especially with the council's high profile ad campaign.
"Over a period of time it didn't really show any marked increase, so I don't think you could justify an argument for doing it for that reason but it was a lot more vibrant," he said.
"And that is the judgment - is it worth people paying for it in their rates or not."
The community will be asked to make that judgment at a full public consultation this year on whether to permanently continue with free on-street car parking as part of the council's Annual Plan discussions with options put to the community in April. The further four month trial will continue with a few minor changes.
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