A controversial plan that could have seen paid parking introduced at popular foreshore sites around the Tweed was rejected unanimously by Tweed Shire councillors last night.
In January, Tweed Shire Council decided to allocate $30,000 for a study to look into how such a revenue-raising scheme could work and for a trial at two high-usage pilot sites to be implemented with funding costs for the trial of almost $100,000 to be earmarked in the 2013–14 budget.
But after Council invited tenders for the study, only one consulting firm answered the call and quoted well in excess of the $30,000, forcing Council staff to recommend it be rejected and defer the start of the study until it could be funded.
Last night councillors instead decided to scrap the plan altogether in the face of a massive campaign against it by not just local user groups but interstate boating and fishing organisations.
Even before Council could organise public input on the plan to work out details such as the sites, appropriate fees, concessions and permits, community and user groups took it on themselves to fight the unpopular scheme.
Cr Gary Bagnall, who had consistently opposed the plan and last month tabled a petition against it with around 500 signatures, told Echonetdaily the rejection meant Tweed residents were ‘free to go to the beach’.
Cr Bagnall said he had been inundated by calls and emails from local and interstate boating, recreational fishing and surfing groups opposed to the scheme ‘from Victoria to north Queensland’.
He had urged fellow councillors to ‘lay the plan to rest’, saying many interstate user groups feared if Tweed council succeeded in introducing the paid parking at foreshore sites, it would spread to other councils along the eastern seaboard.
Byron Shire, which is a tourist magnet, years ago introduced paid parking at some of its most popular beach spots, such as Main Beach and The Pass and is considering more of the same in CBD streets and other areas to raise revenue for the cash-strapped council.
Lismore also has paid parking in high-usage areas.
Cr Bagnall said many community groups were strongly opposed to the scheme in the Tweed and had written to Council, including ratepayer associations, local surfers, boaties and recreational fishing associations ‘all urging us not to take it on’.
‘The interstate groups said it would have a ripple effect up and down the coast and all user groups would suffer. They feared if our council took it on, other councils would do the same and put parking meters at most foreshore sites,’ he said.
‘This would mean that you would have to pay before going to the beach.’
Cr Bagnall took a swipe at the councillors who originally backed the plan (Crs Warren Polglase, Carolyn Byrne, Phil Youngblutt and Michael Armstrong), which he said was driven by former sacked general manager David Keenan.
‘Paid parking is prevalent in Victoria, where the former GM came from, and it was a big revenue raiser there, but the people of the Tweed don’t want it.
‘But it’s funny how those councillors who were originally in favour of it have now quickly changed their tune and turned the other way now the former GM is no longer with us.’
In January, Cr Polglase, who with Cr Armstrong moved the staff recommendation to kick off the scheme, said he was sure the ‘public will give us a whipping over this’ but councillors had to show leadership when considering the budget process.
Cr Polglase had then urged unanimous support for the scheme which would ‘benefit the community but at a cost’.
Cr Byrne at the time said money raised would be used for to ‘fix potholes’ and ‘beautification’ of parking lots.
Engineering director Patrick Knight said the April 2013 report from the Independent Local Government Review Panel nominates ‘road-user charging, including increasing revenues from on-street car parking’ as a possible revenue alternative to increasing rates.
But Mr Knight said the report also highlighted the significant upfront costs of establishing such a scheme ‘and currently Council has not allocated sufficient funding to commence implementation. It is therefore recommended that the paid-parking scheme be deferred.’