Mayor defends Warrnambool CBD parking fees

CLAIMS that parking fees in Warrnambool’s CBD are linked to a high number of vacant shops have been dismissed by mayor Michael Neoh.

During council debate Monday night on a suggested six-week trial of free parking at three off-street parking areas there were comments that the CBD retail downturn was partly due to parking fees turning shoppers away.

The vote, put forward by Cr Peter Sycopoulis, was lost 3-2 after indications the trial would cost up to $105,000 in lost revenue.

“It’s a long bow to say the vacant shops are the result of parking fees,” Cr Neoh told The Standard yesterday.

“There are other underlying reasons.

“With some vacant shops the lease is still being paid by businesses which have moved out to other areas.

“And there was an inference during Monday’s debate that the Fun4Kids Festival had an impact on shop vacancies.

“You can’t draw that conclusion — the festival is only for a week.”

Cr Neoh said the central Coles/Youngers car park was always well patronised despite parking fees.

“You can’t say people aren’t willing to pay for parking,” he said.

Geelong City Council’s decision on Tuesday night to trial free Saturday parking for three months and to abolish one-hour limits did not sway his views either.

“There is more than parking involved in the Geelong CBD downturn,” he said.

“There’s the impact of Westfield shopping centre with a multi-level parking area and first hour free.

“Warrnambool already has free parking on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and public holidays. There’s free parking in Banyan Street and all-day parks nearby.”

Cr Neoh is confident a review of paid parking will be high on the agenda early next year in pre-budget discussions.

“The options could include having a pass for the whole year and boom gates to better manage parking with the first hour free,” he said.

Commerce Warrnambool chairman Richard Montgomery revealed yesterday the lobby group had sent a letter to the council suggesting free parking on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to encourage more shoppers into the CBD on traditional quiet trading periods.

“At this point it is only an idea and we are looking for feedback,” he said.

“On a board level we see parking as a priority issue.

“It’s something we’d like to talk to council about after the holiday period.

“The lost revenue versus economic benefit needs to be weighed up.

“We’d support any moves to make the shopping experience more efficient and easier.”

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