City brings back free parking


Ash Bolt

The City of Greater Geelong will reintroduce free parking in December and investigate the potential of a voucher system, similar to the one used in Melbourne, to get visitors back into the CBD as part of its COVID support initiatives.

Councillors voted to endorse more than $2 million worth of COVID support at Tuesday’s council meeting, with a focus on helping the arts sector and hospitality businesses bounce back over summer.

One of the initiatives, at an estimated cost of $190,000, will be the waiving of parking fees in all two-hour metred on-street parking spaces in the CBD, after a proposal put forward by councillor Eddy Kontelj was narrowly supported.

Five councillors – Stephanie Asher, Trent Sullivan, Kyle Grzybek, Anthony Aitken and Ron Nelson – supported Cr Kontelj’s proposal, which would see fees waived throughout December.

Cr Kontelj said the initiative would bring more people into the CBD and get them spending money at businesses that have struggled for the past 18 months.

“We know how important free parking is to generating visitation to shopping precincts, that’s been proven when you look at areas like Pakington Street, Waurn Ponds, Highton, and even High Street,” he said.

“People go where they can afford to go and at the moment people are struggling financially as we head into Christmas.”

Cr Sullivan added that CBD parking was already free on the weekend, when more people had time to visit the CBD, and it made sense to extend that to December and the Christmas period.

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t pursue that … there are people who paying a few dollars for parking is a barrier [to visiting the CBD],” he said.

However several councillors, including Peter Murrihy and Bruce Harwood, were strongly opposed to the move, stating there was no proof free parking brought more people into the CBD.

Cr Kontelj’s amendment also included a push for the city to investigate whether it could introduce a voucher system to encourage residents to spend money at CBD hospitality businesses, as it currently used in the City of Melbourne.

The idea was roundly supported by the other councillors, with a report due to return to council by March next year.

The support package will also include almost $600,000 worth of grants, including $400,000 for the arts sector.

There will also be more than $900,000 worth of rental relief for tenants in city-owned buildings and $300,000 to support tourism within the region.

Finance portfolio chairman, Cr Aitken, said the package acknowledged help was still required as restrictions lifted.

“We are in a recovery phase now, but clearly the effects will be long-lasting, particularly for the hardest hit industries and areas such as Central Geelong,” he said.

“This new package is about council doing what it can to make sure our economic recovery is as fast as possible.

“It’s also about easing the burden on community groups as they get going again, because we know the huge impact sport and recreation activities have on our community’s overall health and wellbeing.”

The new package takes the overall value of COVID-19 support measures delivered by the council to the Greater Geelong community to almost $19 million.