Loss of free weekend parking hasn't hurt Wellington's CBD retailers, council says


Parking charges have done little to slow Wellingtonians' weekend shopping splurges.

Latest retail spending figures show the scrapping of free weekend car parking in the capital's CBD from September 8 has not slowed the flow of cash from consumer to retailer, but it has freed up more car parks.

And with a charge of $2.50 per hour for most car parks, Wellington City Council has collected more than $600,000 in parking revenue and more than $100,000 in infringement fines in nearly three months.

The retail spending numbers, provided by the mayor's office, are being held up as proof of success by those who sought to boost the council coffers and increase both the turnover and availability of in-demand car parks.

 More weekend parking is now available, as occupancy has decreased more than 10 per cent. But car park turnover has not noticeably changed, with a rate of 6.5 vehicles using a car park on Saturdays and six vehicles on Sundays.

This essentially means that a similar number of people are still parking in the CBD on weekends, but they are occupying the car parks for less time, creating more opportunity for others to get a spot.

At the same time, there was a 3.2 per cent increase in spending for the September quarter, although this can not directly be attributed to the parking charges or turnover. The average 9.5 million weekend spend this year has remained steady.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the numbers showed the introduction of weekend parking fees had succeeded in freeing up parking without hurting retail.

"Despite bringing in the charges, [retail spending] hasn't gone down ... there is no impact, as we anticipated."

The amount of parking revenue accrued between September 8 and November 18 was $635,000 – an average of $57,000 each weekend. During that time, $113,000 in infringements was also collected.

"It doesn't mean there won't be the occasional business that will be affected, but that could be for other external factors. In general, across the sector is good news," Lester said.

Concerns that stallholders at the waterfront markets would take a financial hit were also unfounded, he said.

"It's utter bollocks. That's anecdotal, this is data."

Weekend parking charges were signed off by city councillors in June, and came into affect in September.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said it was early days but it appeared the charges had not "dented people's desire to shop in the city".

"Hopefully the weekend parking rate is contributing to higher churn of on-street parks."

First Retail Group strategist Chris Wilkinson, who ran consultation on the parking decision for the council, said overseas examples showed parking turnover generally increased after charges were put in place.

"The danger at the moment is we've got a lot of anecdotal stuff, and it's the hard data we need to work with."

Despite the figures, some stallholders at Sunday's popular and largely cash-based Harbourside Market stand by their claims of being affected by the change.

Both HW Luo Market Gardens and Rebecca Mannion of Fritz's Wieners said they had lost about a quarter of their business.

"The market's come off badly the last two weeks, we've had beautiful weather and normally we kill it," Mannion said.