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City parking gets a boost after emotional debate

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times

Bunbury retailers have won their fight for two hours free parking in the CBD in a move they hope will boost the city centre economy.

Bunbury City Council agreed to the parking concession on Tuesday during an emotional debate which drew a big crowd of retailers.

Six years since on-street parking meters were introduced in the city, shoppers will now be able to park for free for two hours while shopper carparks have been extended to three hours free.

The debate on Tuesday lasted nearly an hour as the council was presented with four deputations over the item, including three from retailers and one from Bunbury Geographe Chamber of Commerce and Industry president David Kerr.

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The changes came down to a tight count, with an amended recommendation of two hours free instead of the suggested one hour endorsed on a six to five vote.

Other changes passed included the extended shopper carpark hours, no time limits or parking tickets on Sundays and public holidays and the introduction of the PayStay app for on-street parking.

A late amendment meant no time limits on Saturdays was replaced by a two-hour free time limit.

The council also endorsed the allocation of $151,800 to fund the changes, which will involve changing 380 signs and 100 parking meters.

The changes come despite Mr Kerr revealing the chamber’s position of concern over the loss of income and “negative impact” the two-hour option could have.

“Contrary to the myth, parking is not free anywhere – someone always pays, if it’s not the user it is the businesses that pay through higher leasing rates or the whole community through rate increases,” Mr Kerr said.

“In establishing our position we are mindful that there are financial implications and that where possible these need to be minimised if the city is to be able to maintain parking assets.

“We’re also mindful of the reality that retailing here and at a national level has been facing a range of disruptive changes that are impacting viability.”

“We considered but have not recommended the free two-hour parking option, due to the loss of income and its negative impact on the overall parking strategy.”

Like all speakers who presented deputations and councillors who joined in on debate, Mr Kerr conceded it was more than parking that was negatively affecting the CBD and said a marketing campaign was “most” critical.

Mr Kerr said at least between $120,000 and $150,000 per year should be allocated for an active marketing and promotions campaign.

“Destination marketing will play a key role in changing market perceptions and increasing visitation, an element of this needs to be to address the lack of entry statements to the city,” he said.

“We need to welcome people and encourage them to spend time in our city through directional signage.

“It is our belief that we urgently need to change the narrative around the CBD as one of the results of continuing disputes over parking is that it reinforces the negative message to potential visitors to the CBD – it is often the main message that people are getting,” Mr Kerr said.

Retail Co – the group representing retailers – presented a petition to the council with more than 2000 signatures supporting the two hours free option.

In her deputation, group founder Cheryl Kozisek claimed Bunbury was in danger of becoming a ghost town and shoppers needed “real incentive” to visit the CBD.

“The implementation of parking meters was to create churn, it was never about revenue raising however it has been so effective at creating churn that we now have empty streets,” Mrs Kozisek said.

“Some councillors may believe that two hours would not make a difference, but after ongoing consultation through the petition with the community they constantly remind us that one hour will be far worse and it would not change their perception of the paid parking.

“One hour free would only make them rush more and leave as soon as that hour is up for fear of getting a parking ticket,” Mrs Kozisek said.

Mayor Gary Brennan said yesterday the matter was a complex issue and he hoped the Bunbury community could now move on.

“Hopefully the changes do result in a benefit to the CBD business owners,” Mr Brennan said.

The changes are expected to happen on or before August 31.

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