The removal of a car park outside Bay of Plenty Cancer Centre has been described as “cruel” and “heartless” by a woman appalled cancer patients may have to climb a “brutal” hill for treatment.
But Tauranga City Council is defending the removal, citing safety reasons.
Shonagh Harris regularly takes a family member to the centre on the corner of Clarke St and 20th Ave for cancer treatment.
The centre, located beside Tauranga Hospital, offers eight car parks including two mobility parks in the area “but these are always full by 8.30am”, Harris said.
About 100 people a day visit the centre.
Harris, and others, were often left “driving around looking for a car park” with the only remaining option usually to park somewhere at the bottom of the hill at the 17th Ave end of Clarke St and walk back up towards 20th Ave.
Harris said she had seen cancer patients struggling to get to the top and was aware of circumstances where centre staff had to intervene due to the physical impact of the more than 200m uphill trek on some patients.
“It’s a hell of a hill. It might not look like a lot to many people. But when you’re battling cancer, it’s like Everest,” Harris said.
“Even the fittest person struggles with that hill.”
Harris was able to drop her family member off at the centre before searching for a park but was concerned some patients didn’t have someone to do this for them and often drove themselves. The removal of an on-street car park directly outside the centre made this situation much worse, she said.
In her view, it was “cruel” and “heartless” to remove an option that might prevent patients from having to climb the “brutal” hill.
“As a patient [family member] and a ratepayer of this town, I’m just appalled [the council] are worried about green spaces but we can’t even get it right for our most vulnerable.
“It’s just wrong.”
Harris acknowledged she was concerned about a single car park “but it’s the most important car park”, she said.
It was the only close on-street space on reasonably flat land.
“To try to drop someone off on a hill takes a lot of energy to get a door open and when you are having chemotherapy, you have no energy.”
Because the park was restricted to 60 minutes, it often had a high turnover of patients.
Harris would like the council to reconsider its parking restrictions in the area to better cater for cancer patients.
“These are people who are the most vulnerable - people seeking treatment for cancer.
“As a community, we need to support these people.”
Council parking strategy manager Reece Wilkinson said it removed a 60-minute car park “after a safety issue was raised by a member of the community.
“Our City Safety team investigated their concern and found that removing this space would give drivers and mobility scooter users better sightlines and greater accessibility at the intersection,” Wilkinson said.
“No consultation was required as we were only removing one space to create a no-stopping area.”
A spokesman for Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty said he had not been told of staff intervening to help patients arriving at the centre but understood “from some of our clients that the removal of one on-street car park outside the centre has caused some difficulty for them.
“Naturally, we are concerned if access to the centre is made more difficult in any way, especially for patients who may be unwell.”
The spokesman said the centre had eight parking spaces, including two disabled parks.
“The car parks at the centre tend to be heavily used, as we would generally have more than 100 people visiting the centre each day.”
The spokesman said there were additional parks available at the neighbouring facilities and business operations, IT and emergency response centre property.
The Cancer Society offers a free driving service to help people get to cancer treatment.
A spokeswoman referred questions to Te Whatu Ora - Health NZ.
Kiri Gillespie is an assistant news director and a senior journalist for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, specialising in local politics and city issues. She was a finalist for the Voyager Media Awards Regional Journalist of the Year in 2021.