Free parking has become a $1 million gamble for the Hastings District Council (HDC) with a motion carried at yesterday's monthly meeting for a four-month trial in the city centre.
After some heated debate and questioning, the trial became a reality by 10 votes to three.
A hand count had to be taken by Mayor Lawrence Yule, because what the "nos" lacked in numbers they made up for in noise.
Mr Yule said research conducted by council staff had unearthed some surprising free parking facts - such as the loss of revenue for councils from parking infringements.
"One of the surprising things that has come out of the work from both Rotorua and some other parts of New Zealand has been you lose the money from the meters by people putting the money in," he said.
"There is also a substantial loss in revenue from infringements from parking overstaying.
"We also collect money for the Government and police on warrant of fitness and registrations, we get a share of that.
"Most of it goes to the Crown but we get a share of that.
"So there is a big potential reduction in revenue from infringements, greater than most councils ever understood."
He said the challenge now was if parking meters were taken out of the equation, how the HDC dealt with the loss of revenue.
"It is hundreds of thousands of dollars you could be dealing with," said Mr Yule.
"It can get up to $900,000 a year from revenue and infringement losses.
"So that is $900,000, if you stick that in then that has to be funded by the ratepayer, because it is a revenue stream.
"The gap has to be filled somehow."
Early on in the debate, Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers sought to reduce the trial period from eight months to four, a motion that was moved by councillor Adrienne Pierce and seconded by councillor John Roil.
"I think we should be trialling 24/7 parking," she said.
"I don't think a free one hour is going to make a huge difference."
Councillor Simon Nixon could not support the proposal, saying the trial would not only exacerbate the parking problem Hastings currently experienced but there was no proof it would create a better CBD.
"To me, what we are proposing is far too extensive," he said.
"Every Thursday farmers now seem to have a sale, you can't get a park anywhere around the 200 block down King St. If for instance, we were going for Market St down where the old Warehouse used to be, it would have my vote and we could go to Karamu Rd and various other roads.
"But I am actually going to vote against this proposal as put up at the moment."
Councillor Kevin Watkins too was against the move, saying the status quo was the best option for Hastings.
"We would have the cheapest parking in New Zealand in the main street of any city. New Zealand's most beautiful city [at] a dollar an hour," he said.
Mr Yule said if there was to be substantive long-term change it would occur from July 1, the start of the council's new budget year.
"We think that will give our CBD a competitive advantage," he said.
"But there is a cost of doing that and we have to have a conversation if there is going to be long-term solution with the community if they are happy to wear that cost."
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