Mission Impossible

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It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of parking spaces in Port Macquarie. Frustrated drivers regularly do laps of the CBD, searching for somewhere to leave their car, and during school holidays and long weekends the problem skyrockets. Emma Siossian examines the proposals being put forward by Port Macquarie Hastings Council to address the issue.

Anyone who has spent any time driving around the Port Macquarie CBD will know finding a parking spot can be “mission impossible”. You know the story: you drive many laps around several blocks, when a free parking space miraculously appears. Determined to be the first to grab it, you accelerate forward at a great pace. 

Perhaps, if it’s a middle-of-the-road spot such as the parking in the centre of the main street, you find yourself face to face with another vexed driver, who has half turned into the spot (your spot) from the other side of the road. Your cars sit nose to nose in a stand-off, your eyes locked menacingly on the other driver, until someone retreats to continue their frustrating search. 

Meanwhile, if it’s school holidays, you might as well turn around and go home … or at least factor in considerably more time for any trip into town.  

 The fact is, Port Macquarie and its population has grown rapidly in recent years, and as a result there are many more cars on local roads and not enough parking spaces. For those who work in the CBD, finding somewhere to leave their car can be a daily headache, with all-day parking limited to places such as the top of Port Central Shopping Centre or the small area at the Food for Less Carpark. 

Parking is also a problem around the Council library and the Macquarie Business Park Centre. Meanwhile, the opening of the Glasshouse Cultural Centre in the CBD later this year is expected to increase parking demands. 

There has been much talk by the Port Macquarie Hastings Council in recent years about finding solutions and possible sites for new carparks; however, from the outside it seems little has been achieved. For example, the Council purchased the site on the corner of William and Murray Street (locally referred to as “the hole in the ground”) with the intention of building additional carparking. That hasn’t yet eventuated. 

The Council says it is aware parking is a problem and is trying to address the issue quickly, particularly the need for more all-day parking for people working in the CBD. The Council’s Director of Development and Environment, Luke Nicholls, says the Council is now reviewing its parking strategy, which was adopted in 2003. 

The review is nearly complete and some draft strategies on how to improve the management and supply of parking will be reported to Council in March. 

One of the improvements being considered is the creation of more off-street parking, and Mr Nicholls says the “hole-in-the-ground” site on the corner of William and Murray Streets is still earmarked to become a carpark.

“This site would allow for the provision of 180 additional public spaces in a decked carpark close to the CBD. However, the cost of decked carparking is quite expensive, so Council has been seeking interest from the private sector in developing the site for shops along the William Street frontage, as well as constructing the public parking spaces,” explained Mr Nicholls. “Council would like to be able to use the site in the meantime for at-grade carparking, but there are a number of engineering issues – such as drainage and access ramping – which we are working through before we could put this in place.”

Another part of Council’s plans is the provision of more all-day parking on the edges of the CBD, to cater for local workers. Mr Nicholls says it would, however, require people to accept a change in culture and be able to walk one or two blocks to get to work. 

“We need people to recognise that if the centre is to function effectively, business owners and their employees taking up the majority of short-term parking in the CBD streets is counter-productive for everyone,” he said. “On Council’s side, we also need to be able to provide safe pedestrian paths, lighting for night-time use and road crossings, to make parking on the fringe safer and more comfortable for people. Also, in peak times Council has in the past trialled a free shuttle bus, which connected Settlement City, the parking areas at Bridge Street and the Port CBD. It has been popular and allowed people opportunities to not park in the CBD. If there was support from local businesses and the local bus company for this service to operate full-time, it would greatly assist in busy times – such as over the Christmas school holidays,” said Mr Nicholls.

The Council also wants to make better use of the parking it has available (there are 2,600 publicly available spaces) by ensuring a high turnover in the spaces. 

“Council conducts daily patrols by the Rangers of the CBD to ensure that the short term parking, with time limits from ¼ hour to 3 hours, is turning over and not being used for all-day parking,” explained Luke Nicholls. “This is important, so that in peak times during the day, shoppers and visitors to the centre have the ability to get a parking space close to where they are going. Also, different activities in the CBD have peak parking at different times; for example, with restaurants being busy in the evenings, shopping centres in the middle of the day, and commercial and office uses generating parking 9 until 5. We need to ensure we make best use of the parking available in the CBD, instead of having large parking areas only being busy for part of the day. Council Rangers actively seek agreements with private parking owners to make their carparks publicly accessible.” 

Meanwhile, as Port Macquarie’s town centre continues to grow, there is also pressure on parking outside the CBD – such as in the new business area around Grant Street and the Port Macquarie Library. Mr Nicholls says the Council is aware of the issue and is trying to implement solutions.

“As office development occurs in the Civic Precinct and Grant Street, there will be pressure on parking. Council assesses each development and requires the provision of parking as per our Development Control Plan,” said Mr Nicholls. “However, what we have seen recently is that tenants of the Macquarie Business Park generate an additional number of cars. As a result, Council has introduced a time limit for the on street parking, so that users of the library and visitors can access parking – and this seems to be effective. Businesses that generate the parking by the employees in this area need to develop methods to deal with this parking demand, and this could include encouraging car-sharing among their staff. As further commercial development happens in this area, Council will be collecting contributions towards the construction of additional public parking in this area.”

 The other big talking point in terms of parking is the potential impact the Glasshouse Cultural Centre will have when it opens. The project has been the focus of the Public Inquiry into the Council, and a potential lack of sufficient parking has been one of the issues that has lead to the dismissal of the Councillors.

The Director of Development and Environment, Luke Nicholls, says when Council approved the Development Application for the Glasshouse, there was a requirement that there be a contribution to fund the provision of an additional 79 public spaces.  

“These additional spaces would be constructed in the carpark in the “hole in the ground” at William Street, which is within walking distance to the Glasshouse. Council is also investigating the option for more on-street parking in Clarence Street, in Murray Street and in Munster Street, to the east of the Glasshouse. In addition, Council is looking at time limits and increasing the amount of 3 hour parking. This would allow people to park on the street and walk to the Glasshouse, but also benefit businesses in this area at other times,” explained Mr Nicholls.  

The Council’s plans sound promising and time will tell whether the parking solutions will go far enough. There are those who already feel they will fall short of the mark.

At the time of writing this article, Councillor Harrison believed that Council needed to consider new solutions. “Carparking in the CBD is a big concern, especially on busy Fridays and peak holidays,” he stated. “The concept of parking meters is one that in the future I believe has some merit … and maybe even now on a trial basis. I, personally, would pay a couple of dollars for 15 min to get to the bank. The truth is Council must pay for new carparks somehow and parking fine revenue is where we’re at now.”

In the meantime, for many local residents the daily battle to find a parking space will continue until improvements are made. At least the summer school holidays are now behind us.

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