Editorial: Does the council think we are stupid?

00:31, Mar 03 2012

Does Wellington City Council think the capital's residents are stupid?

Once again, the council is proposing increases to parking fees, and once again it is trying to pull the wool over motorists' eyes by claiming the higher charges are aimed at increasing turnover at parking spaces, not raising revenue.

The claim is simply preposterous. There are already sufficient controls to govern turnover at parking spaces in the city, and in suburban areas as well, in the form of time restrictions. In some cases, limits for free parking can be as little as 10 minutes, while in the city centre, metered parking spaces are restricted to two hours. If the council was really serious about increasing turnover, it would look at ways to vary these restrictions in areas where there was deemed to be a problem to ensure a better flow.

Increasing parking fees, on the other hand, is likely to have a far greater impact on the numbers of motorists coming into the city to shop in the first place. Some will opt to use public transport, which is, of course, something the council should encourage. But many others, especially those for whom public transport is not a viable or convenient option, will choose to take their business elsewhere.

When the council proposed raising parking fees to $5 an hour last year – a plan it later dropped – Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson warned that the existing $4 fee had already seen business lost to malls in Lower Hutt and Porirua, where parking is free. Kirkcaldie and Stains managing director John Milford and Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce president Richard Stone said that the latest planned increase would exacerbate that exodus.

The council is also contemplating increased fees for rubbish bags, building consents, sports field hire, health inspections, licences and animal registration. It needs to think very carefully about the unintended consequences that might flow from those, too, and ensure it has the balance right before they proceed.

Increasing the cost of under-5s at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre from $1.20 to $3.50, for example, will cause many parents who take their children there regularly to reconsider. Any extra revenue that might be raised, then, must be measured against any likely decrease in visitor numbers – not just of children, but adults who are no longer attending also.

Councillors were told at the end of last year that the city needs to slash spending by $180 million over the next decade to meet the cost of several major items, including $44m to earthquake-strengthen buildings and $100m for its leaky homes liability.

So far, the council's plans for bridging that gap appear to be focused more on raising revenue than significantly cutting costs. The former will help, but only at the margins. The council must start showing some concrete results on what it is doing to address the latter, which is where the real difference will be made.