Whang?rei’s parking meters are out of action for the next six weeks in a bid to lure people back into town.
Omicron is keeping people away from Whang?rei’s shops at the moment, and with business hurting, Whang?rei District Council has voted to wipe all parking fees for the next six weeks.
“Wherever you had to pay parking in the past, it’s free – the time limits still apply, but we just really want people to make the most of coming out and enjoying an unusual aspect of council giving away some of its income,” said Mayor Sheryl Mai.
The move is costing ratepayers about $240,000 in lost parking revenue, but Mai hoped that would be earned back through a boost to businesses.
She said council had anticipated March and April would be slow for businesses and there were fewer people around, so they were doing what they could.
Mike Paora runs Journey Studio in Whang?rei and also noticed the town was very quiet at the moment.
“It’s the big hibernation I guess, people are fearful and choosing not to come out … it’s just the ways and means of this pandemic we’re living in, and you’ve sort of got to be willing to adapt to it.
He said businesses which had their own free parking, like The Warehouse, were always busy thanks to their free parking.
Paora supported the council’s free parking initiative, as did Yvonne Clark from Whang?rei store Cuppacakes.
“The parking is not that great in town anyway, and when you’ve got to worry about the meter maid every 30 minutes – I think it’s a lot better with the free parking,” she said.
Clark said people were afraid of Covid-19. “I think a lot of the older people who would normally come out for coffee and cake are staying away”.
She said small businesses were doing it tough right now.
“If you have to go and have staff isolating for seven days, it’s really hard on small businesses when you’ve only got two or three people,” she said.
There are 6089 active Covid-19 cases in Northland at the moment, with 21 people in hospital.
Mayor Sheryl Mai is encouraging people to keep coming into town – while wearing masks, scanning in and practising good hygiene.
She wanted people to make the most of the free parking, because she said it would not last beyond the six-week period.
As for Whang?rei’s parking wardens – well they won’t be having a six-week holiday, with teams still out checking warrants, registration and time limits.