Chance to test the parking fee debate

By John Lewis

What is the easiest and quickest way to divide a room full of Sheppartonians?

Mention CBD parking.

For some — mostly CBD business owners and shoppers — parking fees have been an irritant ever since the Maude St Mall was introduced.

For others, parking fees are a sensible way to manage congestion and pay for the necessary monitoring by inspectors.

There is also the argument that any money generated for council through parking fees would have to be replaced or services would suffer.

What is not in dispute is the sad decline of shoppers and shops in the CBD area.

Yet, there is no definitive reason for this decline.

Shoppers are indeed moving to the large commercial developments on the fringes of Shepparton — but is parking the reason?

Or is it more complicated than that?

Today's news that limited free parking will be introduced over the Christmas and New Year period is to be welcomed, if only because it will go some way to providing answers to these questions.

With no parking fees — will shoppers return to the CBD?

Time limits will obviously still have to be strictly enforced, otherwise fee removal would be pointless.

There are others who argue that the revitalisation of the CBD area depends upon a much bigger-picture approach than parking meters.

Residential living, increased pedestrian and bicycle access, greening and removal of cars altogether to create a village atmosphere are some of the ideas that contemporary urban planners are coming up with for inner city spaces.

Back at the local street level, the council's introduction of digital PayStay meters for the CBD area has helped reduce the frustration of cashless drivers.

But the question of whether paying to park affects retail trade or not still remains.

Now we have two months of free parking to test the retail waters.

We await with interest any Christmas and New Year trading figures that may shed light on this age-old debate.