IF you want to make a friend in Newcastle, offer them a guaranteed car park in the city.
It is perhaps one of the most discussed topics among regular visitors to the East End and other busy areas.
Now, former lord mayor Jeff McCloy has mooted plans for parking stations in the city centre that could help increase the supply in the city. He has suggested adding 1300 parks across three stations at Railway Street, near the former Wickham train station and through expansion of the existing Wharf Road car parks.
It is a matter that has prompted rallying cries to adopt public transport, calls for more parking and even the council flagging “significant concern” with parts of a University of Newcastle Honeysuckle campus plan.
It is unlikely to go away soon, either. Existing parking reserves are far from assured, with the Throsby car park that accommodates many workers at Honeysuckle already on borrowed time.
The light rail, due to begin operation early next year, will likely offer some relief for those who can travel by train or park and ride along that line to meet it at Wickham. Certainly, though, its exact patronage remains an unknown quantity at this stage. Given the NSW Auditor-General’s recent findings on bus punctuality decreasing in the region, the city’s existing public transport has room for improvement to win over potential new patrons.
Parking is an issue that some of the city’s leaders say pertains to the need for cultural change, asking inner city visitors to adjust their expectations in the face of progress. Certainly, they have been clear that providing or increasing parking capacity is not a guiding light of the new vision for the city.
Revitalising Newcastle’s Michael Cassel said the state government’s investment was “designed to change the way people move and experience the growing city”, noting the market and council would decide if car parking was a viable development for prime inner city land.
A council spokeswoman disputed the need for more parking, but said Mr McCloy was “welcome” to progress his plans. She argued drivers were unable to find the empty parks already available, something the council was working to address.
In June, Newcastle City Council chief executive officer Jeremy Bath said people’s attitudes to parking needed to change as the city evolved. “Much of the criticism around parking is from people who are clinging to a memory of how things used to be,” he said. “This requires a change in people’s behaviour, such as allowing time to find a park and walk a distance.”
Whether that culture will change to accept the new status quo or simply retreat to more convenient alternative spaces is a question perhaps unable to be resolved until the light rail carries its first passengers.
The discussion is unlikely to come to a complete stop for some time yet.