Free parking at Whangarei's Town Basin could become a thing of the past, with the area dubbed a problem parking "hot spot", aggravated if the Hundertwasser Art Centre goes ahead.
Whangarei District Council plans to spend $400,000 on electronic signs at the approaches to the CBD this year, which would live track and display available spaces in major council-owned carparks at Forum North, Water St, Laurie Hall Park, Vine St and the Central City Car Park building.
Council roading manager Jeff Devine said average occupancy of these during the day was just 56 per cent, but also pointed to "hot spots" such as the Town Basin, where parking was free and extremely difficult to come by.
Mr Devine said the council would now investigate options for charging in the area, especially given the increased pressure there if the Hundertwasser Art Centre went ahead next year.
Councillors had been examining parking since 2011 and in April asked staff to investigate "free parking", seen as popular with the public.
Mr Devine said this was a "misnomer, as all car parking costs someone".
"In our case, 'free' parking is where the ratepayer pays all the costs of parking as opposed to the motorist making a contribution," Mr Devine said.
Free parking trials resulted in lost revenue - parking earned the council about $1.5 million a year - and increased operational and enforcement costs, he said.
The council's spending on parking enforcement and administration was subsidised by the New Zealand Transport Agency.
The council provided 2930 car parks within 500 metres of the city centre, with a further 1766 privately owned parks in the CBD.
Mr Devine said "some" additional parks could be created by reconfiguring traffic and creating angle parks.
Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tony Collins said there was "no one definitive answer" among member businesses in relation to car parking.
"There's obviously a certain pool that think [parking] is a barrier to business, that there isn't enough, the cost is too high and that the [payment] process is inflexible," he said.
"Others say they can always find a car park and that, compared to other towns, it's very good."