Free parking has mixed results on retail

Retail spending in central Nelson in July is no better than a year ago but July was a lot better than June, a preliminary report on the effects of free parking shows.

Retailers and local businesses joined city councillors and staff last night for the presentation in the council chamber, but Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said it was too early to draw any conclusions from the data.

She said there was a lot more analysis needed before a final report to the council next month.

In June the council announced free parking - with time limits - in the CBD from July 1, for a period just extended to next month.

Last night's presentation also showed a significant but expected drop in parking revenue. Earnings from on-street meters were down to only a couple of thousand dollars in July, compared to just under $30,000 for the same month last year.

Off-street meters showed a slump from $50,000 revenue last July to under $20,000 in July this year. The number of parking tickets issued was not much greater than two years ago. In July 2012 around 1300 tickets were issued and in August this year 1400 tickets were issued.

The meeting turned lively last night when a retailer who referred to parking wardens as "nazis" was interrupted by council chief executive Clare Hadley.

A question from retailer Craig Taylor on whether shoppers being more relaxed was a result of instructions "on the militancy of the wardens" and how they did their job, gave rise to debate on parking enforcement in the city.

The council contracted out its parking enforcement operations last October to Environmental Inspections Ltd [EIL].

Two other retailers commented last night that the wardens had "no empathy" and were "like nazis", which prompted a warning from Hadley, and that public conduct towards enforcement officers was at times questionable.

"A staff member from EIL was told by a member of the public they should be ‘dealt the same as a Winz worker in Ashburton'.

"You get into a situation where you engage in conversation, and just can't win, so they walk away," Hadley said.

She said their job was to ensure fair turnover in parking.

The presentation on retail spend, pedestrian counts, parking surveys and parking tickets and revenue revealed that people were taking advantage of free parking in the four main parking squares by staying much longer than the maximum three hours.

In Buxton Square car park, a survey found the percentage of parks occupied at 11.30am by cars staying longer than four hours shot from 13 per cent on June 27 to 25 per cent on August 29.

Feedback from retailers last night revealed that shoppers and visitors were generally "a lot more relaxed" and willing to spend time shopping, despite the main car parks being "always full".

Pedestrian counts from points around the city showed activity increased 28 per cent on Thursday, June 26 when the first survey was done, to Thursday August 28 when another was done.

Pedestrian activity increased 22 per cent from Saturday June 28 to the next day a survey was done on Saturday August 30, which was just after the Warehouse in Richmond opened, Reese noted.

Retailer Jo Menary said comments about city workers taking advantage of free parking, and potentially taking up space for shoppers highlighted that workers also needed somewhere to park.

Another retailer said city workers were valued customers and were a "very significant part of our business".

The full report in October would have information on retail spend in different store types, spending trends by time of day and day of the week and the CBD compared with wider Nelson city, Richmond and other parts of the country.

The Nelson Mail