Business owners celebrate free Tauranga parking

After a 12 year fight a Tauranga business owner finally feels vindicated.

Bill Campbell has been pushing for free parking in the Tauranga CBD since he and his wife, Francis, opened their gift store, Fancy That.

His toil has paid off – The Tauranga CBD now has two hours free on-street parking.

Parking areas on Willow Street, Hamilton Street and behind Devonport Road with access from Elizabeth Street are also free for two hours.

Tauranga City Council are trialling the free parking until November and time restrictions will be enforced to help keep parking spaces available for shoppers and business customers.

“I'm chuffed. I'll take some credit for it, but certainly, there's been lots of others,” says Bill.

“I'm going home tonight to have a quiet glass and sit back and say: ‘well, we've achieved something for the day even if we haven't made any money’.

“It’s the best thing we've had for a long time and we need something I can promise you that. It’s pretty quiet.”

The Tauranga CBD has seen a decline in foot traffic for a number of years, says Bill.

The foot traffic counter on Devonport Road counts about 1500 people a day compared to the 20,000 people that go through Bayfair daily.

A number of businesses on Devonport Road have closed in recent months including clothing retailers moochi, Annah Stretton, Just Jeans, and jewellers Michael Hill, and men’s fashion store Hallenstein Brothers is also preparing to close.

Bill would have liked the parking to be free for three hours and thinks the trial should be for 12 months rather than four.

He also wants to see the free parking apply to more off-street parking areas as well because there isn’t enough street parking but concedes it is a good start.

“It gives people another option. They can come to us because they want to, rather than they have to.”

Councillors Dawn Kiddie and Andrew Hollis backed Bill and pushed council to support the move when they voted on it in last week’s meeting. The CBD needs help especially after COVID-19, says Kiddie.

“I do not believe we have felt anywhere near the effects of COVID yet, but it's going to come in October, November, and then pre-Christmas.

“What we need to be doing now is doing what we can to help the businesses right here, right now. They are struggling, downtown Tauranga is struggling.

“The least we can do is make it easy for people that do want to come into the CBD to get a park for free.”

Mayor Tenby Powell is also behind the free parking.

“I think we've got to find any mechanisms right now that we can do to stimulate and activate downtown Tauranga.

“I have never understood the lack of standardisation between the Mount, Greerton and Tauranga. I don't understand why it's free parking at the Mount and it's paid parking in Tauranga. I find that very inconsistent.

“This is some way of at least addressing that at a time when the Tauranga CBD is at its worst.”

Downtown Tauranga chairperson Brian Berry says the challenge now is changing people’s perception about the CBD.

“There's still the perception out in the community that you stay away from the CBD because accessibility's really difficult.

“We need to alter the perception out there and we've got to put ourselves on a level footing with the suburban shopping centres.

“The free parking is actually a really strong starting point for that.

“A quick sort of silver bullet is the free parking because that's something that's easy to communicate to the community and perhaps motivate them to actually come back in and have a look.”

There is currently a loophole with the CBD parking time limit at three hours so people can park for free that whole time. This will change to two hours in August when the Traffic and Parking Bylaw 2012 has been amended.

Council staff will monitor the effect of the trial and report back to council on November 30.