Editorial: Parking restrictions a 'necessary evil'

Last updated 13:00 16/06/2014

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OPINION: It can happen to anyone - well, unless they happen to possess an NCC dispensation sticker. You get held up a minute or two in the Lotto queue, the perm takes a bit longer to set than expected, and d'oh! An unwelcome notice of your indiscretion tucked behind the windscreen wiper.

No one likes being fined. For anything. There's the tiny crushing of the spirit; the why-me response when you know that others have avoided being pinged, the momentary flush of embarrassment. But mostly, it's about the money: the sheer, silly waste. A movie ticket, a night at the Giants, a bottle of wine ... down the drain, and all for the want of one small coin.

The different approach on parking between the two main shopping areas in the region has long been a source of contention. Some say Nelson's parking fees - and fines - are driving them to shop in Richmond, where parks are free.

Concerned retailers and developers met council representatives last week, some calling for free parking in order to help them compete with Richmond on a level playing ground. The council is promising a speedy response, and has so far suggested initiatives such as free parking for two hours, or a different approach to fees in the main council parking squares.

Figures showing a 5 per cent drop in Nelson retailing figures across the first quarter of this year against a 14 per cent lift in Richmond are revealing. The latest ASB "Main Report" says Tasman climbed to fourth place among the 16 regions, with retail sales growth outstripping every other part of the country. Nelson, on the other hand, was in the bottom half of the rankings, with "soft" retail and construction sectors identified as the main drags.

Parking will be a factor, but its influence should not be overstated. With fees set at just $1 an hour and the machines capable of taking small coins, the fee is not high. Inner Wellington, by comparison, charges $4 an hour. Then there's the petrol burned on a trip from Nelson to Richmond to factor in.

The difference, perhaps, is the increased efficiency of today's parking wardens since the service was contracted out. More fines equals more frustration - but surely the addition of Kmart to Richmond's shopping scene is just as influential to the ASB figures.

It is always sad to hear of retailers fighting to stay afloat. The key consideration for the city council is maintaining the vibrancy and vitality of the inner city. All else pales alongside that.

An important consideration is ensuring parking spaces are available. Going all out with free parking, a la Richmond, would not achieve that. Metered parking supported by better quality public transport and safe cycleways in cities, and free parks for suburban areas is the standard formula across New Zealand.

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Any significant deviation from that wouldprobably be counter-productive for Nelson city - though free parking Tuesdays have worked well in the past and could be extended. Just to prove it's about traffic flow and not simply revenue, how about free parking for a two-hour limit Mondays-Wednesdays, year-round?

Meanwhile, let's not blame the wardens. They're doing their job, meeting and exceeding contracted targets set by the city council. And their uber-efficiency does boost council coffers.

- The Nelson Mail

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