Parking in the CBD has been debated since I was elected into Council and after 2.5 years, it still rages on.

Several Ward Councillors oppose free parking in the CBD or parking charges in the outer areas of Greerton and the Mount only because they believe these areas will lose their retail advantage. But what about our diminishing CBD?

Downtown Tauranga retailers seem to have strong support for free parking in the CBD as a means of enticing more people to shop in and revitalise our city which is today merely a shadow of the days of Friday night downtown shopping.

Council staff claim that the revenue from fines and user charges is used to finance the 2 parking buildings in the city.

But what about fairness and parity to all retail areas of our city? If parking is free in the outer areas, why shouldn’t it also be free in the city, and vice versa?

I recently questioned Council staff about parking wardens ticketing vehicles without a current WOF or registration. Their reasoning for doing this was safety. If safety was the case, I asked why they did not check vehicles parked in the buildings. It implies that an infringing vehicle is a safer vehicle in the building than on the street, does it not? Besides, I can’t understand why Council is doing the police’s job.

I was not offered an answer at all. But it has since come to my knowledge that 80% of parking fines revenue comes from WOF and registration infringements. If it is a matter of revenue, say so. It is an acceptable answer to me because I believe that to be true. To say it is a matter of safety is questionable.

Other Councillors and staff argue that the cost would be passed back to the ratepayer if we did not have this fine revenue. I do not agree with this. Since before I was elected, it bothered me that there seems to be an unwritten policy for Council staff to maximise revenue gathering opportunities from ratepayers under the pretense of offsetting rates. This is destructive in the long term. Tauranga is New Zealand’s fifth largest city. We must stop behaving like a big town and start realising our potential.

I believe that if Council continued working hard to revitalise the CBD, it will pay for itself. Imposing fines and making ratepayers pay more only exacerbates our urgent problem of a diminishing CBD.

The solution to revitalising our city centre is far greater than free parking alone. We need to first stop the smoke and mirrors and have a fully open debate with all parties, not just a representative from each group. A workshop is being organised to address this issue. Councillors and staff will be there hence I would urge all interested parties to attend this event. Please keep an eye on further details.

I hope our new CEO Garry Poole with his extensive experience and success in Wellington will steer Council to make Tauranga’s CBD a place that people will want to visit without taking anything away from the Mount or Greerton, and in turn creating real growth and revenue.

Tony Christiansen