No such thing as a free park any more

Free parking in Oamaru has come to an end.

All of the Waitaki District Council’s metered parking was turned back on yesterday, bringing a close to six months of free parking.

The council turned off its metered parking during Covid-19 Alert Levels 4 and 3, and then extended free parking until the end of September to provide a boost to local businesses, making it easier for customers to visit shops and increase trade.

For a lot of people, free parking had been “very welcome”, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said.

“It’s helped people to shop locally,” Mr Kircher said.

However, it had been abused by some people using the parking spaces all day, which had resulted in councillors “reluctantly” voting for an early return to paid parking at the Medway and Steward St parks from September 2.

“Overall, I think we did it (free parking) for all the right reasons, and definitely some of that benefit happened, but it did backfire a little bit along the way,” he said.

The council was still committed to investigating free parking options in Oamaru as part of the long-term plan, he said.

“We haven’t discussed what a review might look like, but I know a number of councillors are also keen to have that.”

It was important to know what the implications of free parking would be – and those would be investigated over the next nine months, he said.

“At the moment, generally speaking . . . the parking meter revenue helps to pay for some of the things in the CBD that otherwise the businesses would be paying for in their rates.

“If we don’t have the meter money coming in, we won’t have the revenue for those things, so we have to determine if it’s those businesses who pay – or is it a larger group that ends up paying in their rates.”

If the council did introduce free parking in Thames St there would be time restrictions.

“That has to be monitored, so you still have to have a person going around.

“The cost of that has to be met.

“If you don’t enforce it, it leads to situations like we’ve just had where people end up parking half a day, or all day, on the main street and we don’t get the turnover of parks and people struggle to find a car park.”