Free parking options in Christchurch's central city over winter could cost ratepayers up to $1.4 million.
But a business leader says providing two-hours free parking is needed to help the city centre's "fragile" retail sector.
The Christchurch City Council stopped charging for parking during the Covid-19 lockdown and has yet to reinstate fees, which has led to workers nabbing the parks before shoppers get a chance.
A report, being discussed at a council meeting on Thursday, highlights four options to consider for parking from June 1 to August 31, including reinstating full charges.
One option, favoured by council staff, includes free weekend parking at the council's Lichfield St and Art Gallery buildings and on the street and up to two hours' free between 5pm and 6am during the week. This would cost $405,000 in lost revenue.
Another option was to provide the first two hours' free in the two buildings and on-street, but with time limits enforced. This would cost about $1.4m.
The cost would be funded from rates.
A third option was to charge for on-street parking but offer the first two hours' free at the council's buildings and all privately-owned parking buildings, at a cost of $1.2m.
But council staff said this option was likely to breach the cartel provisions of the Commerce Act and would need approval from the Commerce Commission.
However, Central City Business Association chairwoman Annabel Turley said two hours' free parking across all central city parking buildings was the best option.
"That would be ideal because the city is really, really fragile, even before Covid. We don't want it going backwards.
"It's really important we get immediate support, and we need support that works."
Free car parking worked, she said.
The off-peak option between 5pm and 6am only supported hospitality and entertainment, not the retail sector which was fragile, Turley said.
Businesses have invested in the central city based on the promise of a convention centre, metro sports facility and stadium, none of which were yet completed.
"We have held up our end of the deal on false promises that have not been delivered."
The council report said encouraging more people to return to the central city for leisure, especially during winter, could help alleviate the economic impact on businesses, but free parking came with a cost that must be carefully assessed against the anticipated benefits.
"It is perfectly possible that other council incentives and activities may be more effective in attracting people to the CBD and ultimately supporting the hospitality and retail sectors."