TEMPERS flared in downtown Warrnambool this week when frustrated drivers were told they could no longer freeload in a private shopping centre car park.
Security guards hired by the new owners of Bayside Plaza were verbally abused and had their lives placed in danger by irate drivers who threatened to run them over, the plaza’s manager said.
The tense situation was triggered on Monday morning when about 240 cars squeezed into the car park designed for about 180.
It was exacerbated by city council roadworks on nearby Fairy Street which blocked on-street bays.
By 9am cars were lapping within the park and tempers were fraying as workers and students ran late.
Shoppers and clients of business services were unable to find a space nearby because bays were crammed, mostly by workers using the area for free all-day parking.
Plaza manager David Turner was called in by business operators who considered asking police to restore order. By next morning security guards were standing at the car park entrances advising drivers the car park was for shoppers and customers only.
Cars were queued up in Merri Street and tempers again flared.
“Some drivers demonstrated the worst of human behaviour,” Mr Turner said.
“They showed a rude, get-stuffed attitude to our polite requests not to use the area for all-day parking.
“Some ignored the guards and drove through, locked their cars and ran off. One guard had a near-miss.
“We don’t want to be totalitarian, but we have businesses struggling to stay afloat and they need the car spaces for customers.
“The new owners felt they had to resolve this issue for survival of the plaza.”
Yesterday, tensions had eased and the security guards sent home early.
Bayside City Plaza was officially sold to new owners on Thursday by receivers and managers of the Saracen property group which had built the complex on the site of the now-defunct Warrnambool Co-op.
“There has been an absence of dedicated on-site management and direction for the property, allowing the car park to become a free-for-all occupied by workers from other areas of the city and TAFE students,” he said.
Advisory signs have been placed around the car park and the property owner is considering penalising all-day parkers.
Kepler Street worker Diane Riordon, who was caught up in the drama, described it as chaos. “When a security guard politely approached me I knew the end had come for free parking,” she said.
“People were late for work and yelling, cars were banked up down the street and no-one could move. The parking shortage situation for workers in Warrnambool is becoming desperate.”
The Cheesecake Shop operators Katrina and Trevor McCarthy said traders were hit hard by the gridlock, but said the lack of parking for workers in the CBD was “a huge issue”.