Free parking in Rotorua's CBD will be on the agenda at the next council meeting.

Councillors Peter Bentley and Reynold Macpherson have submitted a notice of motion for the next Rotorua Lakes Council meeting next Tuesday "that [the] council make parking free in the CBD to support local businesses".

It follows the launch of a petition on May 4 by local business owner Susan Jory, calling for free parking in the CBD.

By Friday afternoon, the petition was four shy of 2500 signatures.

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Bentley and Macpherson, both members of the Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers group, had also requested mayor Steve Chadwick invite Jory to the meeting to speak on the subject.

Jory said she hoped the petition would reach 5000 signatures.

Rotorua CBD business owner Susan Jory. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua CBD business owner Susan Jory. Photo / Andrew Warner

"Hopefully, the public will not be excluded from the meeting and we can gather a large group of businesses and locals to attend."

Bentley, who will move the motion with Macpherson seconding, said it was time to "rehash and re-look" at parking in the CBD, especially in light of Covid-19.

"The retailers, along with tourism, have suffered the most and the council really needs to do everything it can to encourage foot traffic back in town."

Bentley said "naysayers" might suggest free parking would be monopolised by CBD workers, but he believed businesses would discourage this as it wasn't in their interests.

He said he was open to alternative ideas about free parking in the CBD and hoped the motion before the council would spark a debate about the topic so the best solution could be found.

Rotorua Lakes councillor Peter Bentley. Photo / File
Rotorua Lakes councillor Peter Bentley. Photo / File

Mayor Steve Chadwick was asked if she would invite Jory to speak at the meeting and if she supported the petition's kaupapa.

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Mirroring a similar statement made last week, Chadwick said: "Petitions are a valid democratic tool for residents to use as a way to influence decision-making.

"Parking systems are designed to manage demand to support businesses by ensuring everyone has fair access. If the demand has changed we would need to consider if a change of policy is warranted.

Asked again if Jory would be allowed to speak to the council about the issue, a council spokeswoman referred the query to the council's standing orders which outlined the process for petitions.

Three councillors - Bentley, Macpherson and Raj Kumar - had indicated support for the idea, while five councillors - deputy mayor Dave Donaldson, Fisher Wang, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Tania Tapsell and Mercia Yates - had expressed a willingness to debate the issue or present alternate solutions, such as one hour of free parking.

Chadwick last week said it was "not a matter of simply supporting the petition or not" as there were "factors that would need to be weighed up".

Councillor Sandra Kai Fong, who had previously not commented on the issue, said she was "happy to have the debate" about free parking in the CBD but needed a better understanding of the implications of what the petition proposed.

"Questions that come to mind for consideration are how does that address turnover and demand [and] should there be a time limit on the length of time a park can be used?

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"Some free parking is already available in the CBD - are those parks not used, in the wrong places, not long enough, other reasons?"

She said big-box retailers might offer free parking but those companies were likely paying for that parking as part of lease agreements and queried whether ratepayers should subsidise other retailers by providing free parking.

"What is the cost implication on ratepayers as this income helps to reduce rates if all parking income is waived forever, as is suggested?

"In the short term, I agree some assistance is needed to get businesses affected by Covid-19 back on their feet. Free parking for a period of time may be one option."

Councillor Trevor Maxwell had also previously been silent on the matter, but said he would "like to discuss, debate and importantly listen" to council colleagues and would vote accordingly.

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